Growing up there was always that kid on the other team that gave it that extra bit of hustle and beat you in the championship game. You know, the kid that hit a base hit into the outfield and ended up stretching it for an inside-the-park home run.
So when does hustle go too far? Did Chase Utley cross a line when he broke Ruben Tejada’s leg in the second game between the Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers? Utley clearly slid into Tejada to take him out.
Getting back to the kid that hustled growing up.
For me it was a kid named Bob Hodges. He was my Pete Rose, so to speak. The kid always beat my team and we all ended up cursing his name. Whether it was in football or in baseball, Hodges did it all. It was bottom of the ninth and our ace pitcher is up. It’s 1978 and our team was playing for the district championship, and of course we have two outs and if we strike out Hodges at the plate we are the heroes. He has a man on second and all he needs is a base hit. Of course he gets the triple for the win. We all hated him. I hated him. In every sport we played as kids he was always on the other team. Hodges was a hustler and true sport. He beat us with skill and hustle, not by bending the rules and not by physically trying to take out a player. But we hated him, not because he was a bad player, but because he played on the other team. I think that’s the difference — Hodges played hard and was a good sport. And he was not out to hurt people at all costs. I think Utley is not a good sport and will go down in the history books as being a jerk, not a Pete Rose.
San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Tomsula said to his QB Colin Kaepernick, “Play to win.”
This talk has changed the way Kaepernick has played, but it also brings up some other people who think they are playing to win. Chase Utley is one of them. Obviously he has been schooled in winning at all cost.
That hustle that you notice at an early age in just a few players, is in Utley. He just went to the dark side and went too far. That win-at-all-costs mentality.
Ironically, it’s the same players when they finally make it big that you either hate them or love them. Case in point: Pete Rose, when he played for the Cincinnati Reds in the 70s. Everyone hated him. But hustle is good. I may have hated Rose for his hustle, but I admire him for it today. Hard playing is always welcome in my book. Work hard and play hard has always been part of baseball and until they change the rule, that hard slide will always be a controversial part of the game. I think change is coming though. Thanks to Utley.
-Contact sports editor Vern Hee at firstname.lastname@example.org