Bill Ballew 2015-11-16 03:48:24
Here in the offices of Baseball The Magazine we were putting the final touches on this issue right in the middle of the Major League Baseball playoffs. While our timing could have been a little better as far as having a chance to see more of the games instead of trying to make sure the names match up with the correct photographs and articles, there’s no denying that the games during the division series featured some of the most exciting and intense action you’ll see on the diamond. There also was more than a fair share of controversy on a variety of fronts. Questionable calls made by both the umpires on the field and the mystery men handling replay back in New York City did not contribute positively to the overall excitement created in the contests. Instead, fans were left wondering what the basis of some decisions was, which in the long run makes many question whether the replay process is working and worth all of the stoppage of play. Yet even when you take the umpires and the replay officials at the game’s highest level out of the equation, there were still plenty of interesting things that arose during the early stages of the playoffs that affect the sport as a whole. Leading the pack was the takeout slide by the Dodgers’ Chase Utley in Game 2 of the National League Division Series versus the New York Mets and a couple of unusual incidents during the instant classic Game 5 of the American League Division Series pitting the Toronto Blue Jays against the Texas Rangers. The Utley play in question occurred in the seventh inning when the Dodger broke the leg of Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada while attempting to prevent a double play. For those who missed it, Utley not only went to the right of the base, he did not slide until he was at the bag, thereby putting the defender, who in this case had his back turned to receive the throw, in imminent danger. Utley, in fact, never touched second base and left the field after being called out. Shortly thereafter the Dodgers challenged the play once Tejada was carted offthe field. The replay officials ruled that Tejada missed the bag by the narrowest of margins and Utley was ruled safe, even though he never attempted to tag the base while going after the shortstop. There’s no doubt it was a hard-nosed play, which is admirable, but in my opinion it was also a dirty play based on the way Utley slid. In most amateur leagues, a player must slide directly to the base; otherwise, it is an automatic double play. Although Joe Torre, MLB’s chief baseball officer, later issued a two-game suspension of Utley because of the play, the situation revealed the obvious—MLB should pursue rules to protect middle infielders. A few years ago the rule was changed to protect catchers, who also can no longer block the plate. Ironically, catchers have protective gear, whereas middle infielders do not. Making this change is important not only for the major leagues but for lower levels as well. Impressionable young players watch their counterparts in the big leagues and oftentimes try to emulate them. Professional athletes are role models, regardless of whether or not they should be or want to be. MLB should take the necessary steps to incorporate rules much like those in place in the high school and college ranks where a player must slide prior to and directly toward second base in potential double play situations. The first round of the playoffs also produced Toronto’s come-from-behind victory over Texas in the seventh inning in the deciding fifth game. The biggest play of the rally occurred when Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista blasted a Ruthian shot he capped with a long, admiring look and a bat flip that seemed to go nearly as high as the ball he had just hit. Two diverse camps expressed their feelings about Bautista’s celebratory display. Old-school followers of the game shook their head in disbelief, chiding the Blue Jay for a lack of sportsmanship and respect for the game while showing up his opponents. Others admitted they loved the raw emotion Bautista displayed and said it should be done more often. Among those lauding the feat was USA Today, which wrote, “Jose Bautista’s bat flip was amazing and should be celebrated.” I’m all for players at all levels getting excited about winning and having success. At the same time, there’s a fine line between celebrating and showboating. Those who read this column regularly probably won’t be surprised to hear me suggest that a player should act like he’s done it before. They also shouldn’t be shocked to know in this case that I tend to side with Texas’ Sam Dyson, the pitcher who surrendered Bautista’s blast, who said, “He’s doing stuffthat kids do in Wiffle ball games and backyard baseball. It shouldn’t be done. Just kind of respect the game a little more.” I realize that times are always changing and acceptable behavior, both in society and sports, has tended to become more tolerant of what was once considered to be rude and insulting. I loved what former manager Dusty Baker said afterwards when he noted that Hank Aaron always told Baker when he was a youngster with the Braves that he should respect the game and not show up his opponent. Baker’s comment reminds me of a quote from Mickey Mantle, who said, “After I hit a home run I had a habit of running the bases with my head down. I figured the pitcher already felt bad enough without me showing him up rounding the bases.” In that case, following the example set by Mantle is worth emulating by players at all levels of our great game. Check out the two new columns in this issue of Baseball The Magazine. Kyle Nelson of Cornerstone Coaching Academy and Ron Wolforth of Texas Baseball Ranch make their column debuts in the magazine with this issue. They will be providing great information throughout 2016 as well, which is just around the corner. In the meantime, have a great holiday season while remembering spring will be here before we know it!
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