The Hangover: A Delayed Reaction To The Slide

By now, you’ve seen the video. You’ve read all of the accounts. You’ve dissected the viral diagrams:

I’m not sure there’s a whole lot more to say on the issue of Anthony Rizzo‘s “slide” into Austin Hedges from Monday night, but the internet isn’t going to stop me from trying. So here are some disjointed thoughts.

That was a dirty slide. It’s obviously hard to determine whether Rizzo attempted to injure Hedges, but he clearly went out of his way to collide with him to presumably jar the ball loose. There’s a good chance that kind of collision, initiated by a 6-foot-3, 240-pound man, will injure the person on the receiving end, the one who’s standing still and not expecting the impact. So when Rizzo decided to leave the base path and not make a play toward home plate (i.e., to break the rules), he opted to do something with a good chance of injuring Hedges. Parse things all you want, Rizzo’s actions led directly to Hedges leaving the game. To make matters worse, both Rizzo and his manager, Joe Maddon, acted like jackasses after the game.

(By the way, I’m not saying Rizzo is a dirty player. No idea. He probably isn’t one, and it was a split-second decision in effort to help his team win a ball game. It was still a dirty play in the context of the rules and general sportsmanship.)

That was an illegal slide. The rule is somewhat clear: don’t run over a catcher unless he doesn’t have the ball and is blocking the plate. This isn’t really an issue, even though it’s curious how many people have argued, for whatever reason, that it was a clean, legal slide. Even MLB admitted that it violated the rules.

MLB dropped the ball. In this world, we expect some sort of justice when someone does something bad to us, some kind of punishment to deter them from doing it again and to compensate for our hardship. When someone steals our bike, for instance, we expect the thief to receive a fine or an arrest or whatever it is they do to bike thieves, plus maybe our bike back*. The police force and criminal justice system is supposed to handle this, so we ourselves don’t have to go over and steal a bike out of the bike thief’s collection of neighborhood bikes. This whole system is set up to prevent our society from becoming a bunch of bike-stealing thieves, and sometimes it even works.

*Look, someone stole my bike in the seventh grade and I’m still not over it.

In the baseball world, it’s much easier. All the evidence is usually right there, from five different camera angles, and the stakes are generally much lower (it was a nice bike, alright). All Joe Torre and company had to do was watch the video replay a few times, consult Sac Bunt Chris’ diagram, refer to the rule book, and come to a reasonable conclusion.

“Hey, this guy went out of his way to make a dangerous play that broke the rules, and a player got hurt directly as a result of his choice and actions. He’s a nice fella with no history, so let’s suspend him for just a couple of games to 1) prevent immediate retaliation by the opposing team and 2) to provide a disincentive for other players thinking about making the same careless decision.”

As I tweeted yesterday:

For baseball to move beyond vigilante justice, or whatever you want to call it, Major League Baseball itself needs to actually step in and police the game. While it’s fine and dandy that the Padres have taken the high road so far this series, many teams would have responded to Monday’s incident with a beanball or some other form of retaliation. As barbaric as that may sound—and here are my general thoughts on retaliatory beanballs—it’s the result of a system that doesn’t adequately punish players caught doing something dangerous, something that could (or did) injure another player.

It’s probably over, for now, and luckily Hedges looks like he’ll be okay. The Cubs, on the other hand, come out looking a little more unlikable, MLB comes out looking incompetent (per usual), and the Padres come out looking like the the kid who kept getting his bike stolen and never stole back, both commendable and a little sad.

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  • Billy Lybarger

    I wonder if the home plate umpire had thrown Anthony Rizzo out of the game if the reaction would have been different. There would have been a punishment. Rizzo would have known immediately he had errored in the eyes of the league, and Joe Maddon would have looked even more the fool. I am not placing blame merely at the ump’s feet here, but he could have tossed Rizzo and provided some amount of vindication.

    I also wonder if the umpire had indeed thrown out Rizzo, if the league would have suspended Rizzo just as a way to show support of the umpire. I was also surprised to hear Andy Green did not go out to home to argue a case for having Rizzo ejected.

    • Zippy_TMS

      Boy, I wish the umpires would have taken that kind of action, but there’s no precedence. Ejections seem to come after a punch is thrown, a beanball after a warning, or “showing up” an umpire, but I can’t recall it coming after something resembling unsportmanlike conduct. The rule enables the umpire to call the runner out, which he was anyway, so that is a moot point. The umpires have the authority to eject anyone at their judgment, but they don’t swing that authority often. Maybe they should.

      If Rizzo had been ejected, and MLB upheld the decision after the game, that would have been the end of it. If MLB had decided to make an example of Rizzo and suspend him for a game or fine him (and Joe Maddon for defending the illegal slide) with an official statement, that would have been the end of it as well. Instead it appears like the Padres are whiner crybabies, and since Andy Green doesn’t believe in giving free bases to a guy in the way of vigilante justice and the HBP, people are saying that he has no sack and is a softie. To make matters worse, Rizzo went yard to lead the game off, so the Padres really come off looking like losers here. It sucks all around.

      • I agree with both of you. I think the problem, like you mentioned, is that there’s really no precedent or guideline for an umpire in that situation, and I don’t think Rizzo’s slide looked egregious enough in real time to get the umpire to toss him.

        That’s the thing, though. That *should* be in the rule book, if MLB is serious about stopping these types of plays anyway. The thing Green mentioned about Hedges not expecting it because of the new rules makes a lot of sense, and puts it in the hands of MLB to do something about it when it happens. It’s like either have the rule, with real consequences, or don’t have the rule at all. Everyone needs to be on the same page.

      • ballybunion

        Take another look at the complete sequence. The home plate umpire is following Hedges’ tumble to see if he held onto the ball, and once it was clear he did, THEN he made the out call. The umpire didn’t know the rule!

        That helps me believe Rizzo DID ask umpires about the rule, and was given incorrect information. Just asking seems to indicate Rizzo was unsure of his manager’s advice about playing “aggressively”. I hope other Cubs players have doubts about some of the BS Maddon is giving them.

        I’ve seen others comment that Maddon “knows” the right way to play because he was a catcher, but he was done at 25 in A-ball (released by a Padres team!). I think the macho attitude he’s pushing has more to do with his penis length than anything involving baseball, especially since he’s an old geezer who isn’t on the field (and yes, I’m older than he is).