Remember that time Anthony Rizzo went out of his way to initiate contact with Padres catcher Austin Hedges on a play at the plate last year? Maybe not, but perhaps you should freshen up on that incident. Rizzo absolutely leveled Hedges, and MLB determined that his slide had violated rule 6.01(i). No fine. No suspension. No reason not to do it again to some defenseless catcher.
So when Rizzo went out of his way to take out Pirates catcher Elias Diaz yesterday, it was no surprise. Allegedly, MLB put a lot of work into what is officially known as the “Collisions at Home Plate” rule, but there are no teeth behind its selective enforcement. When Rizzo gently helped Hedges reach a safe, prone position on the field of play, Hedges held onto the ball, so Rizzo was out anyway. Had Hedges failed to hold onto the ball, Rizzo would have been out for violating the rule in the judgment of the umpire. That was probably small consolation to Hedges who missed his next start with a bruised right thigh.
It’s great that the umpire made the right call. It’s not great that MLB Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre called Rizzo the next day and only offered some clarification regarding the rule. No discipline. Not even a warning. Apparently there wasn’t enough malicious intent.
Malicious intent be damned.
The whole point of the rule is to protect catchers by avoiding unnecessary collisions. If runners have nothing to fear other than an out leading to a dead ball situation, then what incentive do they have for not leveling the catcher?
Sure, they could theoretically have the health and well being of their fellow man in the forefront of their minds, but in the brief time they have to make the “smash vs don’t smash” decision, that’s unrealistic. The risk/reward scenario does not bode well for the catcher, because the upside of scoring the run simply outweighs the downside to making an out that would most certainly be an out without the takeout. Without more punitive measures, the anti-collision rule lacks the essential component necessary to be taken seriously.
Pawning responsibility for disciplinary action off into the “intent” realm makes this even worse. This shouldn’t be about whether the runner was trying to violate the rule or trying to injure another player. It also shouldn’t be about whether the catcher was injured. It should be about endangering the safety of another player without any caveats.
This brings me back to Rizzo’s slide yesterday. I took to Twitter and called Rizzo a dirty player and probably made some not-so-veiled references to some irregularities in his family tree. I stand by the “dirty player” statements, and if pushed on the subject, I’d probably stand by everything else as well.
Contrary to popular belief (and some of my own tweets), Rizzo isn’t a complete moron, although ruling out partial credit would be irresponsible. In addition to being a fantastically talented player, he’s arguably a very savvy one with a relatively high baseball IQ. He’s also in his 8th year of big league ball, and this isn’t his first collision rodeo. He absolutely knows enough about the collision rule to know when he’s broken it. His arguments to the contrary are at best unconvincing and at worst tongue-in-cheek. Knowingly flouting the rule while also endangering the safety of an opposing player is just sickening.
Obviously, some will argue that he’s an absolute simpleton who doesn’t understand the rule (even after Joe Torre explained it to him). Ignorance is no excuse, and it’s not a defense. He violated the rule and the slide was dirty. I’ll explain my argument in some detail (with pictures too), but first I recommend a quick perusal of the MLB rules for 2018 specifically pages 70-72.
Let’s focus on the first part of Rule 6.01(i)(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), or otherwise initiate an avoidable collision.”
The violation of the rule here is obvious, although I think it falls short of my definition of a dirty play.
Granted, the “direct pathway” is a judgment call by the umpire, and most umpires shouldn’t be trusted with a potato gun much less a multi-billion dollar sport, so here’s something easier for them to understand.
Excerpt from Rule 6.01(i)(1) Comment:
“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.”
Even the kindest, most generous description of the play would indicate that Rizzo failed to do this while initiating contact to the Diaz’s left calf using the shin of his lead leg.
This inappropriate slide makes this play even more dangerous for Diaz than simple interference. It’s a dirty play, and under the rules of today’s game has no place in baseball. Nobody should do this. Nobody should want to do this. Nobody should be in Rizzo’s position and think that it’s okay because winning baseball requires aggressive play. That excuse doesn’t work for Rizzo or anybody else.
If anybody other than Rizzo goes out today and does the same thing, you’ll find me on Twitter rallying people with virtual pitchforks. If Rizzo does it again, I’d be calling for actual pitchforks (not that I or anyone I know actually has one, but you can understand the sentiment).
PS. The play at the plate is not the same as the play at 2B, but if you mistakenly insist that it is, then check Rule 6.01(j) part 4 and focus on the “for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder part”. Still a violation…