I have no idea if Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley was a dirty player before Saturday. I have no idea if he is a dirty player today. I know, however, that on Saturday he was when he "slid" (more of a rolling kick, actually) so late he was essentially already at the second base bag and fractured the leg of Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada.
Even if his intent was not to injure Tejada, his reckless disregard for another infielder's safety without a doubt caused the season-ending and potentially career-altering break. Utley made the decision to hit a pedestrian in the crosswalk with an SUV, and it shouldn't matter if he intended Tejada to spring back up unscathed.
Which is why, if Major League Baseball's two-game suspension of Chase Utley sticks (an appeal is being heard today), I won't have a problem with it.* Like a pitcher throwing at a batter or Johnny Cueto bicycle kicking Jason LaRue into retirement, guys who act recklessly need to have their behavior curbed. That it took this long for Joe Torre to act (as C.J. Nitkowski points out today, no one else was suspended for their late slides earlier in 2015) is disappointing, as maybe this kind of play could have been prevented with greater enforcement during the regular season.
*UPDATE: According to Karl Ravech, MLB is not going to hear Utley's appeal today because there is not enough time for Utley and the MLBPA to mount a defense. It actually makes a lot of sense from a due process perspective. Per the collective bargaining agreement, Utley will be eligible to play tonight and every game until the appeal is heard.
That said, in the same way that Major League Baseball acted in the wake of the Buster Posey injury in 2011 to prevent future home plate collisions, now it must act again to prevent runners from going after vulnerable fielders around the second base bag. We have seen that giving de facto approval to the neighborhood play (where a fielder does not remain on the base while turning a double play) does not keep players safe. In fact, it may encourage runners to slide harder and further out of the baseline to keep the fielder from turning two, leaving guys like Ruben Tejada and Jung-Ho Kang even more exposed.
I've long believed that we, as fans, get to see the best baseball when the best players are actually on the field. Indeed, having a healthy Pete Reiser, for example, would have been far more exciting than having unpadded outfield walls. Sure, batting helmets remove a bit of danger from the game, but who can argue that the game isn't better for the countless head injuries they have prevented. I will gladly take the trade of a handful of exciting home plate collisions for a bevy of unconcussed catchers. And I would much rather have Ruben Tejada and Jung-Ho Kang available in this postseason than see a couple of double plays busted up. Contact is exciting, but it's not as exciting as actual baseball.
You also can't trust players to police this issue themselves without getting more people hurt. As we've seen, the primary method of enforcement is a pitch up and in at the perpetrators. That only leaves more guys on the DL, and the game suffers for it.
That's why, in addition to ramping up the punishments for players who slide outside of the baseline, Major League Baseball really does need to require its runners to go straight at the base on a force play. No hooking around the bag. No sweeping the leg. Slide at the base and only at the base. I proposed this a few weeks ago, and I maintain that the offense you may lose by a few extra double plays turned per year would be more than made up for by having the best players on the field more often and doing the actually exciting baseball things that get fans on their feet. You know, like hitting. Or making spectacular plays in the field. Or not limping around on crutches for three months and watching games from home or the clubhouse.
So, yes, punish Chase Utley. Punish him harshly. But don't allow the system that bred his egregious takedown to continue to fester. Because if you do that, there will be another Ruben Tejada being carted off of the field. And there will be another Chase Utley that you have to punish. It's worse for their teams, worse for fans, and worse for the game as a whole when two good players are forced to off of the field, especially during the postseason when the whole world is watching.