It’s that time of year. The Cubs and Pirates are playing baseball games against each other, so of course we are going to have something flare up between the two teams. The 2018 fight appears to be about the slide rule. These two teams aren’t strangers to controversies over this rule as you’ll likely remember from this slide [VIDEO] by Chris Coghlan that took out Jung Ho Kang in 2015:
As you can tell from the title of this post, this post is going to contain a lot of screenshots. However, before I post those I want to take a look at the Cubs history with slides and the actual wording of the home plate collision rule.
The Cubs and the slide rule
This isn’t new territory for the Cubs. Last year the application of the slide rule came up multiple times, including one particularly controversial slide at the plate that involved Anthony Rizzo and Austin Hedges. Rizzo was out on the Hedges play, so there was no need for a ruling in that game, however Major League Baseball later clarified that Rizzo had violated the rule.
It’s notable that Rizzo’s reaction to the Hedges slide was very similar as his reaction to the Elias Diaz slide, even down to portraying it as playing the game “hard.” You can watch his complete comments from Monday’s game in his postgame interview below [VIDEO]:
It’s also worth noting that Diaz had a very different take on the same play, as the Athletic reported:
“In my personal opinion, I don’t think it was a good slide,” he said through an interpreter. “I understand that there’s old-school baseball, but we’re not in old-school baseball anymore. There’s new rules and things we’ve submitted to and even us as catchers have mentally prepared ourselves for and I don’t agree that that’s a legal slide.”
“I definitely never will forget about this moment,” Díaz said through an interpreter. “The way I see it, you’re playing with the food that I put on the table for my family. This is my career. This is what I do for my family, and you’re messing with that. You almost cost me my career. I’ll never forgive that.”
But it’s not just Rizzo.
“I have no idea why these rules are a part of our game,” Maddon said. “That had a tremendous impact on today’s game, where outs are rewarded based on a fabricated rule. It’s created under the umbrella of safety. You slide directly over the bag and you’re called out where there’s no chance for the runner to be thrown out at first, and there was nothing egregiously dangerous on the part of our runner.
”Don’t give me hyperbole and office-created rules about reaching the bag. When you’re sliding, and you have momentum, you keep going. There was no malicious intent whatsoever.
”The rule does not belong in the game. I’m not blaming the umpires. I cannot disagree more with the spirit of the rule.”
He wasn’t alone. Here’s Jon Lester on the same play:
“I told Happ in the dugout, ‘Next time, you do the exact same thing.’ That’s baseball, man. We’re out there playing with a bunch of pansies now. I’m over this [darn] slide rule and replaying if it’s too far and all this other [nonsense]. We’re all men out there, grown men. They’ve turned double plays their whole lives. They know how to get out of the way.”
It’s worth remembering these other instances because this wasn’t the first controversial slide the Cubs have had under Joe Maddon and it’s unlikely to be the last. Cubs fans should probably familiarize themselves with the rule in question.
There are a two parts of the MLB rule book to keep in mind with Rizzo’s slide, I’ve pasted them below:
First, collisions at home:
Rule 6.01(i) Collisions at Home Plate(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. 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 (regardless of whether the player covering home plate maintains 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. If the runner slides into the plate in an appropriate manner, he shall not be adjudged to have violated Rule 6.01(i).
Second, slide rule on double-play attempts (bona fide slide language):
Rule 6.01(j) -- Sliding to Bases on Double Play Attempts
If a runner does not engage in a bona fide slide, and initiates (or attempts to make) contact with the fielder for the purpose of breaking up a double play, he should be called for interference under this Rule 6.01. A “bona fide slide” for purposes of Rule 6.01 occurs when the runner:
(1) begins his slide (i.e., makes contact with the ground) before reaching the base;
(2) is able and attempts to reach the base with his hand or foot;
(3) is able and attempts to remain on the base (except home plate) after completion of the slide; and
(4) slides within reach of the base without changing his pathway for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder.
A runner who engages in a “bona fide slide” shall not be called for interference under this Rule 6.01, even in cases where the runner makes contact with the fielder as a consequence of a permissible slide. In addition, interference shall not be called where a runner’s contact with the fielder was caused by the fielder being positioned in (or moving into) the runner’s legal pathway to the base.
Notwithstanding the above, a slide shall not be a “bona fide slide” if a runner engages in a “roll block,” or intentionally initiates (or attempts to initiate) contact with the fielder by elevating and kicking his leg above the fielder’s knee or throwing his arm or his upper body.
If the umpire determines that the runner violated this Rule 6.01(j), the umpire shall declare both the runner and batter-runner out. Note, however, that if the runner has already been put out then the runner on whom the defense was attempting to make a play shall be declared out.
A note: in a lot of the discussion of this rule in the game threads and on social media rule 7.13 has been mentioned. That is the 2014 experimental name for what is now in the rule book as rule 6.01(i), above. You can see the 7.13 referenced in the book for clarity.
With that background, let’s take a look at the actual play.
There was a lot of discussion as to the path Rizzo took on the bases for this play, so I started my screen grab as early as possible. Here is Rizzo starting down the line:
Chris Gimenez hit a ball to short that Sean Rodriguez chose to throw home. As Rodriguez fields the ball you can see Rizzo heading home, close to the line, just outside of the base line. Incidentally, Gimenez gets a terrible jump on this ball, which is probably why there is a even the possibility of a double play later.
Rizzo looks out on the play and his path hasn’t really changed all that much. It’s exactly where he should be. Diaz is standing on home to get the force out at the plate. That is exactly where he should be. Rizzo is about to make the decision to slide.
Before looking at that decision two things are important to keep in mind. The first is that the next seven screen caps all take place in a little over a second, just like most baseball plays. Both Rizzo and Diaz make decisions that complicate this particular play. Second, both Rizzo and Diaz are trying to go the extra mile to help their teams. Diaz wants the double play to stave off a big inning, so he makes an ill-advised throw. Rizzo wants to break up the double play in a 3-0 game against a division rival. They both want to accomplish this within MLB rules.
Rizzo looks ready to slide as Diaz catches the ball. Rizzo is moving slightly towards the inside of the line. Diaz, interestingly, is looking towards Rizzo. He knows exactly where Rizzo is as he starts to slide. Rizzo wants to break up a double play, Diaz wants to make one, and a collision is imminent.
Diaz makes a decision to turn his back towards an already sliding Rizzo, and yes, Rizzo is now sliding inside the line. It’s going to become clear that Rizzo picked his path to meet the rule and break up the double play. Perhaps Diaz was thinking of the same rule that every baseball channel I follow has been talking about since the play, but it seems ill-advised for Diaz to stay that close to the plate while turning his back to an already sliding Rizzo.
As the collision develops, people have pointed out that Rizzo’s left leg looks extended. You can see that here. However as the play develops he’s bending the knee to lessen the impact. Whether you like the play or think it’s dirty, it’s pretty clear from the next shot that Rizzo isn’t looking to sweep the leg and hurt anyone, he’s bending his leg to lessen the blow. A blow he, admittedly, still wants to land to disrupt a double play:
Before Rizzo gets to Diaz he’s pulling back and focusing on the plate. Both hands are aimed towards the plate, his entire body is aimed towards the plate. He’s bent his leg to try and pulled back a bit from the “sweep the leg” look some screenshots have shown before Diaz lets the ball fly to right field.
Here is another angle where you can see the same thing - Rizzo has his hand down, focusing on the plate. As an aside, yes, that might be the worst sponsor ad placement of all-time by MLB. However I think it’s clear that Rizzo’s leg still hasn’t landed on Diaz, so I’ll save my commentary on MLB ads for some other post.
Diaz flies off the ground and the ball sails towards first (it will ultimately sail well over first, into right). But from the perspective of our hometown hero, it’s worth noting how close Rizzo is to the plate as he touches it. He’s not reaching from afar. He didn’t contort himself into crazy angles to get into home. He is basically right on top of the plate as he gets there, and yes, he did it while breaking up a double play.
Slightly closer up view of the same play, with the same MLB sponsor logo in the way of the action.
In case there is any doubt about Rizzo not maximizing contact on this play, take a look at the below that Kingman’s Rat posted in the game recap from the AP:
One note, there are a number of images that have been being used for this play that I didn’t use. For example, the shots where Diaz writhes in agony seem a bit disingenuous considering the above and that he finished the game. Similarly, the pic that appears to show Rizzo sticking his leg out to sweep Diaz also doesn’t really tell the whole story.
Rizzo didn’t “sweep the leg” with gusto. He did slide into the plate in a way that would disrupt Diaz’s rhythm for his throw. Diaz wanted to make a double play, Rizzo wanted to prevent one.
This is a play that drew both Joe Maddon and Clint Hurdle out of their dugouts to argue the play. Hurdle was ejected as he pressed his case. I’ve linked to the video of both of their post-game interviews and highlighted some of their comments below:
“It was a perfect play by Rizzo...My concern is that they are teaching fans the wrong thing also. The fans’ reaction to Rizz the next time he came up indicates that they think he did something wrong. And that’s what’s so wrong about all of that, different plays where the player’s not done anything wrong but because of new rules it makes him wear the black hat for a moment. That’s how you should teach your kids to slide to break up the double play at home plate. The catcher’s got to clear the path.”
“...if, in fact, an out is rewarded, again, on a good baseball play that’s where I don’t get it. All these rules where you permit outs to take runs off the scoreboard based on good baseball, based on something that’s been written down and fabricated over something that’s been written down in the last several years.”
“At the end of the day we put a rule on 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, it seems like we just put an open season tag on 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 on a hard baseball slide. There’s potential injury...and I don’t see the rule being used. There it’s open season...and everyone’s going to see this as a play you can make on every catcher at his most vulnerable position. He’s completely exposed, completely out in front of the plate, and has no defense whatsoever. And there’s big people that play this game, that are fast and I think that defeats the purpose of the rule.”
When asked a follow-up question about the play he just replied:
“I’m done with the rule.”
The umpires on the field ruled nothing happened on this play that violated MLB rules.
The review crew in New York agreed.
For that matter, even some of the Pirates players seemed to agree, see the below from Sean Rodriguez, also via the Athletic:
“I don’t think his intent was malicious at all,” Rodríguez said. “If I’m in that situation, I’m taking that same slide. If it happened against them, I probably would’ve gotten booed a lot by their fans. I do with everything else, and that’s fine. If they want to talk trash, that means they notice me. I don’t think he was trying to do anything malicious. I think he was just tying to alter his throw. He’s a big guy and is playing the game hard. There’s a lot of weight coming behind that. Does it make me, as Diaz’s teammate, happy about it? Absolutely not. But, again, that’s part of the game where we’ve got to have each other’s backs.”
I’m not sure how I feel about agreeing with Rodriguez, but I tend to believe the umpires got it right. I also agree with Maddon that I want Cubs players to break up double plays within the rule. Regardless of my own conclusion, it’s pretty clear that Cubs fans are divided on this play. If the past few years are any indication, there are more controversial Cubs’ slides on the way. Let us know how you feel about it in the poll and comments below.
Anthony Rizzo’s slide was clean...
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