Teams tend to play one of two types of baseball, long ball or small ball. The rise of of analytics has shown sacrificing an out to advance a runner is not in a team’s best interest. Teams are shying away from small ball because, as Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine so eloquently put it, “Chicks dig the long ball.” The roar of the crowd is much different for a Home Run than a Sacrifice Hit, Sacrifice Bunt. Instant offense versus a building block towards a potential Run.
Baseball has changed since the small ball era of the early 20th Century. The small ball era helped produce Eddie Collins and his 512 career Sacrifice, 120 ahead of second place. Clayton Kershaw is the active leader with 108, 334th all time. Small ball produced Ray Chapman’s 1917 single season record of 67 Sacrifices. Bert Campaneris’ 40 Sacrifices in 1977 are the most since 1929. Home Runs have replaced the Sacrifice. Teams swing for the fences. They no longer get them on, get them over, get them in.
A slugger’s value comes from hitting a baseball over the fence, not tapping it in the infield. The top ten Home Run hitters of all time have hit 6,680 Home Runs. Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Alex Rodriguez, Willie Mays, Albert Pujols, Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Thome, Sammy Sosa, and Frank Robinson have played a combined 213 Major League seasons. Only Pujols is active, with two seasons left before Free Agency or retirement. Occasionally these long ball titans sacrifice themselves for the team.
In 22 seasons, Barry Bonds hit 762 Home Runs and laid down 4 Sacrifices. Hank Aaron played 23 seasons, hit 755 Home Runs with 21 Sacrifices. Babe Ruth hit 714 Home Runs in 22 seasons and laid down 113 Sacrifices, more than the rest of this elite group combined. Alex Rodriguez Sacrificed 16 times in 22 seasons, while hitting 696 Home Runs. Willie Mays played 22 seasons, hit 660 Home Runs, and dropped 13 Sacrifices. Albert Pujols has played 19 seasons, hit 656 Home Runs with 1 Sacrifice. Ken Griffey Jr. hit 630 Home Runs over 22 seasons and Sacrificed 8 times. Jim Thome and his 612 Home Runs laid down 1 Sacrifice in 22 seasons. Sammy Sosa had 17 Sacrifices in 18 seasons while blasting 609 Home Runs. Frank Robinson dropped 17 Sacrifices in 21 seasons, with 586 Home Runs. Even the greatest sluggers of all time Sacrifice.
Babe Ruth revolutionized baseball with his power, yet he still played in an era where players were expected to bunt to help their team win. (www.captainsblog.info)
In 213 combined seasons, the greatest Home Run hitters laid down 211 Sacrifices. In an average season they hit 31.36 Home Runs with 0.99 Sacrifices. Their average career was 668 Home Runs and 21.1 Sacrifices, 30.2 Home Runs per Sacrifice. Even ardent believers in small ball know these players should swing the bat.
Jim Thome and Albert Pujols each have just 1 career Sacrifice. Thome and Pujols are not Rickey Henderson. They have hit a 32 triples, 16 each, and stolen 133 bases, combined. Only Pujol’s 114 steals break to top 1,000. Both sluggers were designed to trot around the bases, not sprint.
On July 3, 1994, Indians Manager Mike Hargrove looked to extend Cleveland’s 2.5 game over the Chicago White Sox in the American League Central. In the Bottom of the 7th, in a 7-7 tie against the Minnesota Twins, Eddie Murray laced the third pitch to Right for a lead off single. Hargrove signaled his young Third Baseman to Sacrifice. After taking a strike from Mark Guthrie, the 23 year old Jim Thome bunted, moving Murray to Second. Thome reached on an error by Third Baseman Chip Hale. Twins Manager Tom Kelly then replaced Guthrie with Carl Willis. Sandy Alomar Jr. greeted Willis with a swinging bunt down, loading the bases. Paul Sorrento followed with an RBI Single to Right, driving in Murray. Wayne Kirby fouled out to Third. One out. Kenny Lofton hit a Sacrifice Fly to Center, scoring Thome with Alomar advancing to Third. Two outs. Omar Vizquel flied out to Center. Three outs. 9-7 Cleveland. Thome and the Indians won 10-9 in 11 Innings, sending the Jacobs Field crowd home happy.
Jim Thome hit baseballs a long way, his talents were not best used bunting. (www.cooperstowncred.com)
The importance of the game, and Thome’s Sacrifice, were lost as the 1994 season stopped on August 12th. Cleveland was 1 game behind Chicago when the Strike began. The Strike claimed the rest of the 1994.
The St. Louis Cardinals hosted the Chicago White Sox on June 16, 2001. The Chicago Cubs led the Cardinals by 6 games in the National League Central. In the Bottom of the 7th, White Sox pitcher Sean Lowe walked Placido Polanco on four pitches. J. D. Drew then Singled to Right. Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa looked to stretch the 6-3 lead. He signaled his Cleanup Hitter to bunt. In his 67th career game, Albert Pujols bunted the first pitch foul. On the second pitch, Pujols bunted the ball back to Lowe who threw to Second Baseman Ray Durham covering First. Polanco moved to Third and Drew to second. One out. Pujols has not Sacrificed again. Bobby Bonilla was Intentionally Walked to load the bases and replaced by Pinch Runner Jim Edmonds. Craig Paquette Singled to Right, scoring Polanco. Drew scored on an error by the Shortstop, Tony Graffanino. Edmonds stopped at Second. Edgar Renteria struck out looking as Edmonds stole Third and Paquette stole Second. Two outs. Mike Matheny grounded out to First. Three outs. St. Louis won 8-3.
Albert Pujols is one of the greatest right hand power hitters of all time, bunting is not his most dangerous weapon. (Dilip Vishwanat/ Getty Images)
The Cardinals lost to the Houston Astros on the final day of the Regular Season. Both teams finished 93-69. Houston was crowned Division champions by winning the season series 9 games to 7. St. Louis was the Wild Card. The Cardinals lost to the eventual World Series champion Arizona Diamondbacks in a decisive Game 5 in the Divisional Series.
Baseball is a team game played by individuals. Players field ground balls, pitch, and bat alone. No one can help you succeed, but you can help others succeed. Backing up throws, turning Double Plays, executing a relay all help a team win. And yes, occasionally even the greatest Home Run hitters Sacrifice for the team.
As baseball changes, Sacrifices by players capable of putting a baseball into orbit inches towards extinction. The Sacrifice is becoming a lost art as light hitting pitchers in the National League dominate and the Designated Hitter in the American League decimates the Sacrifice. A slugger bunting is now more rare than a Perfect Game. This generation’s greatest sluggers have Sacrificed just twice. If Mike Trout ever lays down a Sacrifice, soak in the moment. It will be the first of his career, and possibly the last time an all time great Home Run hitter Sacrifices himself.
The “slide” by the Dodgers Chase Utley into second base was horrific. No one but Utley can say with certainty what his intentions were, but from what we saw Utley went in either with cruel intentions or forgot how to slide into second base. Whatever his intentions were Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada now has a fractured right fibula.
Chase Utley has played 13 seasons in the Majors, he has played 12, 954 ⅔ innings at second base, and turned 902 double plays. He is not a starry eyed rookie, Utley knows howto play the game. He knows how a player should and should not try to break up a double play. What was on display at Dodger Stadium in Game 2 of the National League Divisional Series was grotesque. Utley knows better, but he injured another player because he did not play the game they way it should be played. The play was dirty, plain and simple, but why when Chase Utley is generally not seen a dirty player?
People are going to argue that the play was not dirty, just Utley playing hard like they use to play. First, it was a dirty play. Second, just because that is how they use to play the game does not mean it is the right way to play. Utley was on top of second base when he began his“slide”. Tejada was doing everything he could to protect himself by being behind the bag. Turning a double play is dangerous for the shortstop or second baseman that has to make the turn. Tejada used the bag as best he could to shield himself from a clean, hard slide, which was justified. However, this is not happened. Tejada had to have his back to Utley to receive the ball from Daniel Murphy, this places him in a compromised position. As Utley is going in to break up the double play he begins his slide so late that he does not make contact with the ground as part of his slide until he is past second base. Beginning his slide so late meant Utley’s body was still high up, potentially too high for Tejada to avoid. It looks almost like a football player being tackled after an unsuccessful attempt to hurdle the defender. This is far too late for the play to be safe but hard. Utley sliding in late with Tejada’s back to him as he begins to turn places the responsibility on Utley to not do anything stupid or dirty so that both players do not get hurt. Apparently this was too much to ask of Chase Utley as he sees the play developing and goes into second base hard, late, and high. Utley also goes in with his body wide. Yes it does appear that he is trying to make contact with the base, in accordance with the rules. However, “sliding” in wide, late, and high with Tejada’s back to him in this case meant the contact was guaranteed. This is where a play turns both dirty and dangerous. The best case scenario for Tejada to be violently flipped by Utley, and even then the play would have been dirty. The reality though is much worse. Tejada was defenseless and paid the price for Utley’s inability to understand that his attempt to break up the double play in this manner was foolish and dangerous. Utley’s stupidity, regardless of intent, has resulted in Tejada having a broken leg and Utley receiving a knee to the head, likely a mild concussion or at least having his bell rung. The Mets lose their starting shortstop and the Dodgers might lose a backup second baseman. There was no need for Utley to take out Tejada. It was a stupid play.
After the game ended with the Dodgers evening up the NLDS at one game each, MLB Network begins breaking down the game as a whole and debating whether the play was dirty or not. Eric Byrnes adamantly argued that the play was hard, but not dirty, and that this is how players use to break up double plays. (Brynes has since changed his opinion after seeing the replay more and doing further analysis, which I respect him for doing). Brynes was a fun player to watch because he brought intensity, grit, and passion to the game everyday. However, his initial reaction to this situation was wrong. Just because something has always been done a certain way does not mean that it should continue to be done that way. (Again Brynes has changed his opinion from his initial reaction, but that initial reaction is held by some people). Plays like the one Tejada and Utley were involved in have the potential to end careers; severe concussions, destroyed knees, shattered legs.
Change has never come easy to baseball. Purist usually argue that changing the game in any way will negatively impact the game as a whole. Slowly but surely baseball has changed, and usually for the better. Baseball had always allowed for home plate collisions. Talk to Buster Posey about his lost season or Ray Fosse about how his career was never the same. Baseball had allowed the spitball. Talk to Ray Chapman’s family and see how they felt about it after he was killed by the pitch. Talk to the countless African-American players who were denied the ability to play in the Majors simply because of their skin color. Baseball had not drug tested for steroids and other PEDs. Talk to the families of Taylor Hooton and Rob Garibaldi who testified before Congress in the same hearing with Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens, and Jose Canseco. Taylor was 17 and Rob was 24 when they committed suicide due to their steroid use. Baseball is continuously changing. Obviously some of the changes it has undergone are far more important and far reaching than others. However, the notion that continuing to do something simply because it is the way it has always been done is absurd, especially if there is a different way to achieve the same end goal while reducing the danger to the players, to individuals who look up to the players, or to end injustice.
Chase Utley is not who usually comes to mind as being a dirty player, but what he did in Game 2 was a dirty play. Trying to break up a double play during a playoff game is good, hard baseball. However, what Utley did with his extremely late “slide” was to unnecessarily injure an opposing player and change the series. There are only two times in baseball that it should ever look like one player is tackling another: when a fight has broken out and players are trying to restrain one another and when a team is celebrating a win and the team is chasing the player who got the game winning hit. That is it. Chase Utley took out Ruben Tejada on a dirty “slide”.
If people who want to defend what Chase Utley want to talk about how his play is just how baseball is and should be played, then they also need to talk about something else. Regardless if it is in the NLDS or next season there will be a purpose pitch delivered. That is just how baseball is. It could this year before Utley’s appeal is heard. It could come next year when the two teams play each other. Somewhere down the line a purpose pitch will be delivered by the Mets to the Dodgers expressing their anger at this dirty “slide” by Chase Utley. Hopefully the batter on the receiving end of that pitch will be Utley himself and not one of his teammates. Noone should not have to get hit by a pitch for this. It was Utley’s stupidity, he should have to answer for it. Baseball players have always dealt with this sort of thing themselves, and in this case Eric Brynes and others are correct that some things in baseball do not need to change. This is how baseball has always policed itself, and this is how baseball should generally continue to police itself. A player does something stupid, let him take the punishment for it.
Major League Baseball acted quickly to suspend Utley. Too bad the suspension is not long enough. He should be suspended for more than just two game, conveniently he would have missed the games in New York had he not appealed. Two games is what you should get suspended for arguing for too long with an umpire about a bad call, not for taking out an opposing player. Utley and the Dodgers should feel the pain he inflicted on the Mets. Appealing his suspension is Utley’s right, but it would be shameful if it were to be reduced. Those on Utley’s side are arguing that he has gone in to break up double plays like this before without receiving a suspension. While this is true, it does not make it right. Fortunately, Utley has not injured anyone seriously before. Even Tejada has been on the receiving end of one of Utley’s “slides”, and he was able to walk away. The “slide” during Game 2 was the most egregious of Utley’s questionable slides, and it clearly went from trying to break up the double play to taking out an opposing player. Again we will never know what Utley’s intentions were when he went into second, but ultimately his intentions do not matter. Utley made a boneheaded and dirty play.
There is nothing wrong with playing hard and trying to break up a double play, especially in the playoffs. There is however a line between playing baseball hard and playing dirty. Chase Utley flew over that line when he took out Ruben Tejada with his absurdly late slide during Game 2. Go in hard, make the middle infielder jump to avoid you, make the throw to first a little more difficult and take some of the juice off the throw. There is nothing wrong with this. What is wrong is when you slide in late, wide, and high against a middle infielder who has his back turned toward you. Ruben Tejada was trying to make a play. He used second base to protect himself, but Chase Utley took him out with simply a dirty “slide” that resulted in a broken leg and the Mets losing Tejada for the rest of the playoffs.
The NLDS has been changed, and not for the better. Instead of talking about the series being tied at a game each, all the talk is about the injury to Tejada and whether the analysis think the play was dirty. This is not good for baseball. Instead of celebrating the game and the playoffs we are arguing whether the play was dirty. What a shame that a fairly ordinary play has turned into a season ending injury for one player and a debate about whether the play and player are dirty. You were better than this Chase Utley, what changed?