With apologies – and thanks! – I was off the grid for almost all of the day today, traveling to Florida with The Family for a Disney World vacation, and today was Hollywood Studios day (the ‘Star Wars’ stuff there was acceptably pervasive – I’m a fan). Thus, I missed today’s game entirely (really wanted to see Mike Montgomery’s start, but I’m sure he’ll get another … ).
That means I missed The Slide of Doom, and all the attendant teeth-gnashing.
To re-set the stage, with the Cubs up 3-0 in the 8th inning, and the bases loaded with nobody out, Chris Gimenez grounded to the shortstop, who threw home to start a hoped-for double play:
Crew Chief reviews call that Anthony Rizzo does not violate the slide rule at home plate in the 8th; call stands, no violation.
— MLB Replay (@MLBReplays) May 28, 2018
As everyone well knows, there are now rules in place to protect defenders at bases, the precise contours of which are perhaps more complicated than they need to be, and allow a slide like Rizzo’s – which was probably not in the spirit of what the league was trying to protect against – to be deemed legal even after a review.
When discussing these kinds of plays, I like to keep that spirit in mind: whether a slide is legal or not under the rule, the whole point is to give defenders an opportunity to protect themselves – was the defender needlessly in the way, especially without the ball? Could the runner have easily avoided the defender and just run/slid right at the base? These tend to be commonsense evaluations, but the rules don’t always properly capture those things.
On this play, it was close, both in spirit and in letter of the rules. I’m gonna include the full text of both the breaking-up-double-play rule (which this was), and the home plate collision rule (which this only kinda was):
Going by either rule, there’s no question Rizzo made a legit slide here. The only question is whether he deviated his path in order to make contact with the catcher. You can watch that play a dozen times, and you’re gonna be able to convince yourself of each side of this thing if you try hard enough, because at what point do we say a guy “deviated” his path? Yes, Rizzo came inside the baseline where the catcher was setting up, but from when he started to slide, he was sliding toward the base – he didn’t deviate to make contact. He was already on the way to making contact.
I tend to think that’s why this one was ruled the way it was, and why there was no interference. Is that the spirit of the rule? Couldn’t Rizzo have very, very easily have avoided the collision? Yup, he could. Has he been taught since a kid that he’d be crazy to avoid the contact there? Yup, he has. I’m not saying that makes him right for doing it, but it does make it understandable, in the moment, for what happened. And it certainly doesn’t make Rizzo a dirty player, or his slide a dirty act.
Nevertheless, I think Clint Hurdle has a good point about matching the rule to the league’s intent (MLB.com): “At the end of the day, we’ve put a rule in at home plate to protect the catchers. And based on the information I got today, and the video I’ve been able to watch a few different times, seems like we’ve just put open season tags on the catchers on a force play in front of home plate. Our catcher, he makes the play just like he’s supposed to make it and he gets wiped out with a hard baseball slide. I mean there’s potential injury. I don’t see the rule fitting the means there.”
I’m reminded of the last time the Cubs were in this kind of dispute at home plate, also involving Rizzo, when he trucked Austin Hedges a couple years ago. That one was not the double-play rule, for what it’s worth, and Rizzo was ultimately ruled – by the league, long after the game – to have violated the home plate collision rule. Similarly, Rizzo had a lane to slide if he wanted to do so without contact, but he didn’t deviate his then-existing-path when he made his final move to the plate. It’s another close call, and I tend to think Rizzo did not violate the letter of the rule, though maybe it wasn’t the spirit.
So, that’s where I land again this time: I don’t think Rizzo violated the letter of these rules, but I think this is the kind of slide MLB is trying to legislate out of the game (and you can freely debate whether that’s a good or bad thing). I also don’t think you could any way call this a “dirty” slide.