Baseball as a Contact Sport: A Dirty Slide and the Unwritten Rules of the National Pastime

Read more

It was the seventh inning of Saturday night’s game between the Mets and Dodgers in what has been a very close postseason contest. The Mets were leading 2-1. Chase Utley, Dodgers veteran, was running from first. What was a routine double play turned into a scary moment when Utley’s slide ended on Ruben Tejada‘s right leg. Tejada was taken out of the game on a stretcher, and after a looooong review by the umpires, Utley was called safe at second (it just so happens that Tejada never touched the base). The Dodgers went on to do some more damage: they won the game to tie the series at one game each side. Surprisingly, no punches were thrown.

A lot happened afterwards. X-rays showed a fracture. The League suspended Utley for games 3 and 4 of the series. Joe Torre, former Yankee manager now working for the league, issued a statement saying in long and polite sentences what we all kinda knew – the slide was illegal. In other words, the umpires messed up big time.

Utley apologized to Tejada (via David Wright, Mets captain) but also said he is going to appeal the suspension. People started calling the play what it was – a tackle – and the usual cries for an adjustment of the rules were made. A rule change seems a logical extension of the decision to ban home plate collisions – and resulting injuries – from the national pastime.

That’s for the written rules. How about the famous (or infamous) unwritten rules of baseball? Sunday was travel day so the question remains: what’s going to happen when both teams meet again? Are the Mets are going to take revenge on Dodgers players for not having their starting shortstop for the rest of the postseason? We should remember that early in the year, the Oakland A’s and Kansas City Royals turned their games into a pitchers-hitting-batters match up that started with, you guessed it, a dirty slide at second base. Monday night Mets ace Matt Harvey will start in front of his crowd. He is known for being prone to retribution (Utley being one of his previous victims), and the rest of the team might not keep their cool; according to reports, they were furious. To add a little spice, Utley is eligible to play game 3 since there was not enough time for his appeal to be heard.

So enjoy Monday night’s game between these two teams, and the ones to come. They will showcase baseball as what it rarely is – a contact sport.