Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley will not be forced to serve a two-game suspension for purposefully sliding into New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada after the league lifted its ban Sunday.
Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times first reported the decision, citing "a person familiar with the decision." Joel Sherman of the New York Post later provided a synopsis of MLB Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre discussing the ruling:
Joe Torre, who officially metes out punishment for MLB, felt inconsistency in rule meant no suspension, but felt attention received (cont)— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) March 6, 2016
Utley, 37, received a two-game ban after MLB deemed his takeout slide of Tejada in Game 2 of their NLDS matchup illegal. Umpires on the field did not see anything wrong with the slide at the time. Tejada suffered a broken leg on the play and missed the remainder of the postseason.
In October, Torre examined the play and released a statement that Utley should not be let off the hook:
After thoroughly reviewing the play from all conceivable angles, I have concluded that Mr. Utley's action warrants discipline. While I sincerely believe that Mr. Utley had no intention of injuring Ruben Tejada, and was attempting to help his Club in a critical situation, I believe his slide was in violation of Official Baseball Rule 5.09 (a) (13), which is designed to protect fielders from precisely this type of rolling block that occurs away from the base.
MLB expedited Utley's appeal so it could be heard while the Dodgers-Mets series was still ongoing. MLB Network's Jon Heyman, then with CBS Sports, noted MLB and the MLBPA had disagreed on when the appeal should be heard:
mlb wants utley hearing today (before game 3). union wants time to prepare. cba mandates appeals be within 14 days.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) October 12, 2015
While a select few have come out in defense of Utley, saying his slide was merely aggressive, an overwhelming chorus deemed the play dirty and called for the suspension to be upheld. Dave Schoenfield of ESPN.com called the slide "clearly dirty and malicious." Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post wrote it was "100 percent" a dirty play. Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez tweeted he was "bothered" by the play.
Utley, meanwhile, has maintained he was just playing good, hard baseball.
"I was trying to put a body on him to try to break up a double play," Utley said, per Jorge L. Ortiz of USA Today. “You're taught from a young age to try to break up double plays. I think that's winning baseball. Anybody in that situation ... my focus is seeing the ball. I didn't realize his back was turned. Everything obviously happens fast."
While the Dodgers will be happy to avoid losing Utley for any amount of time, he's failed to reach the heights he did earlier in his career. He had a .212/.286/.343 slash line with eight home runs and 39 RBI while splitting time with the Philadelphia Phillies and Dodgers during the 2015 regular season, all numbers that were near or at his career worsts for a full season.
Despite his struggles, the Dodgers re-signed him to a one-year, $7 million deal, and Los Angeles will be hoping that he can perform at a higher level as it chases a World Series appearance.