In case you missed it last night, controversy erupted during and after the Cubs victory over the San Diego Padres in Chicago. The source of controversy: this sixth inning play at the plate in which Anthony Rizzo attempted to score on a fly ball to center field. Matt Szczur made the catch and fired home to catcher Austin Hedges, who held on to tag Rizzo for the double play. But the collision still has people talking:
Hedges left the game with a bruised thigh. Everyone else involved has bruised feelings.
The issue, obviously, is whether the collision was legal under the rules. The rule in question is 7.13, which holds thusly:
(1) A runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate). If, in the judgment of the Umpire, a runner attempting to score initiates contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate) in such a manner, the Umpire shall declare the runner out (even if the player covering home plate loses possession of the ball). In such circumstances, the Umpire shall call the ball dead, and all other base runners shall return to the last base touched at the time of the collision.
As is always the case in the rules, the official comment provides illumination:
Rule 7.13 Comment: The failure by the runner to make an effort to touch the plate, the runner’s lowering of the shoulder, or the runner’s pushing through with his hands, elbows or arms, would support a determination that the runner deviated from the pathway in order to initiate contact with the catcher in violation of Rule 7.13. If the runner slides into the plate in an appropriate manner, he shall not be adjudged to have violated Rule 7.13. A slide shall be deemed appropriate, in the case of a feet first slide, if the runner’s buttocks and legs should hit the ground before contact with the catcher. In the case of a head first slide, a runner shall be deemed to have slid appropriately if his body should hit the ground before contact with the catcher.
Based on the replay, it does not seem that Rizzo deviated his path. He took an inside-the-line path for several feet before getting close to Hedges. However, he did not appear to make any effort to touch the plate nor did he make an effort to “slide into the plate in an appropriate manner.” That based on neither his legs nor his butt hitting the dirt first. He really just tried to cross body block Hedges because he knew the ball was beating him home and that Hedges was in a good position to tag him out, which of course he did.
While Rizzo was under no duty to go for the back of the plate here, it’s worth noting that he obviously had a path to it and could’ve taken it if he wanted to. While not required to do so, his not doing so could have certainly informed the umpire’s judgment, as the rule requires the ump to exercise, if he was forced to make a ruling on whether Rizzo did, in fact, violate the rule. Since Hedges held on to the ball, of course, the point was moot. He was out either way.
Not that that ends things. Major League Baseball could, if it wished, discipline Rizzo for the slide. Padres manager Andy Green certainly seemed to be advocating for that after the game, calling Rizzo’s slide “fairly egregious,” “disheartening,” and “a cheap shot.”
Not surprisingly, Rizzo and Joe Maddon did not believe it to be a bad slide. Here’s Rizzo:
“It’s one of those plays where it’s very sensitive. It’s a play where I’m out by two steps. If I slide, he runs into me. I’ve talked to a lot of umpires about this rule. It’s my understanding if they have the ball, it’s game on.”
“You don’t see it anymore because the runner thinks he has to avoid (the catcher) — he doesn’t. If the guy’s in the way, you’re still able to hit him. I’d much prefer what Riz did tonight. What he did was right, absolutely right. There’s nothing wrong with that and nobody can tell me differently.”
Rizzo is dead wrong about the “if the catcher has the ball, it’s game on” thing. That is not any part of the rule, as stated above. Maddon is right about the runner not having to avoid the catcher, but he’s ignoring the part about the runner’s need to actually try to touch the plate and not initiate contact.
Do I think the play was “dirty” or a “cheap shot” like Green says? No. I don’t think Rizzo had any intent to hurt Hedges. I don’t think he was twirling his mustache while running down the line, savoring the chance to be dastardly. I think that 20 years of playing baseball and instinct took over and that it was a stronger force in Rizzo’s head and muscles than a three-year-old rule, which is understandable.
But I do think the slide was technically in violation of the rule and that, if it chooses to, MLB could discipline Rizzo for it.