Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association announced new rules for slides into second base that will take effect this season. The changes are largely viewed as a response to Chase Utley’s slide in Game 2 of the National League Division Series.
With the Los Angeles Dodgers trailing the New York Mets, 2-1, Utley slid late into second base as he attempted to break up a double play attempt. Utley was successful in his attempt, but also broke Ruben Tejada’s leg in the process.
The controversial play set off a firestorm as pundits debated whether or not the slide was dirty.
Under the new standards, baserunners must be able to touch the base with their hand or foot and they are not permitted to alter the path of their slide in order to make contact with an infielder.
While the rules are intended to improve player safety without sacrificing the integrity of the game, a corresponding change to the neighborhood play may undercut that goal.
Neighborhood plays are now reviewable, and infielders must be touching the base as opposed to the previously held practice of simply being in the general vicinity of the bag. When asked for his opinion on the changes, Utley said he expects it will take some getting used to, according to Bill Plunkett of the OC Register:
“It’s kind of been all I’ve known for awhile so it’ll probably be a bit of an adjustment – not only for middle infielders but also the baserunners.” Utley said. “Probably umpires as well, trying to get on the same page, like with the home plate rule and the batter’s box rule. It kind of took a little time to get comfortable with it, but eventually we’ll get there.”
Utley was suspended two games for his slide, but an appeal allowed him to remain eligible throughout the remainder of the series. The 13-year veteran’s only appearance after the slide came in Game 5 as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning.
Utley’s appeal hearing has yet to take place, though the expectation is it will be held during Spring Training. Should MLB’s suspension be upheld, the 37-year-old veteran will miss the first two games of the 2016 season.
Last season, Utley batted .212/.286/.343 with eight home runs and 39 RBIs. He’s expected to split time across multiple infield positions this season due to the Dodgers’ depth at second base.