Joe Maddon wanted to get ejected. At least, that’s what he told reporters following the Cubs’ 5-2 loss to the Dodgers on Saturday, when he was tossed in the seventh inning following an overturned ruling at the plate. “That was a beautifully done major league play that gets interpreted tantamount to the soda tax in Chicago,” the Cubs’ skipper explained, later adding that he got ejected in order to defend “his boys.” “My point is, all rules created, or laws, aren’t necessarily good ones.”
Before we unpack those statements, let’s take a look at how the controversial play unfolded. In the seventh inning of NLCS Game 1, with one out and runners on first and second, Justin Turner lined a base hit into left field. Charlie Culberson raced home from second base and was nailed at the plate by a strong throw from Kyle Schwarber.
Upon review, however, things got a little messy. Cubs’ backstop Willson Contreras set up to receive the throw in front of the plate, where his left leg and foot blocked Culberson’s path to the plate in clear violation of the existing home plate collision rule. Per Rule 7.13, not only is the catcher required to leave a clear path to the plate, but he must have possession of the ball before moving to block the plate — unless, and only unless he is making a legitimate attempt to field the throw. Contreras, on the other hand, already had his leg and foot in Culberson’s path before receiving the ball from Schwarber and had not turned to receive the ball before blocking Culberson’s way.
As expected, the Dodgers challenged the initial ruling and successfully overturned it in their favor, tacking on an extra insurance run to their three-run lead. Equally predictable was Joe Maddon’s response. He argued with home plate umpire Lance Barksdale, then turned on crew chief Mike Winters before getting ejected from the game.
It’s easy to understand Maddon’s frustration. The play didn’t result in a violent collision, nor did Contreras appear to be committing violations with any kind of hidden malice toward Culberson. By the spirit, rather than the letter of the law, Contreras did nothing wrong. Still, tweaking the terms and conditions of a potentially dangerous play is, well, dangerous — no matter how beautifully a play is made or how innocently a catcher’s leg is thrown across a runner’s path to the plate. If Contreras is the collateral damage here, if it means that sometime in the near and inevitable future, a season-ending or career-ending collision will be avoided because of the same flawed rule, then maybe that’s not the worst thing.
Maddon should be available to manage Game 2 on Sunday.