Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo has been taking some heat for a hard slide into home plate in the eighth inning of Monday afternoon’s game against the Pirates. With the bases loaded and the Cubs up 3-0, Chris Gimenez hit a grounder to shortstop Sean Rodriguez. Rodriguez threw home for the force out. Catcher Elias Diaz was in the process of throwing to first base to complete the double play, but Rizzo slid feet-first into Diaz’s legs, so the throw sailed into right field, allowing the Cubs to score two runs.
The Pirates argued that Rizzo’s slide was illegal, but the umpires conferred and upheld the ruling on the field that Rizzo’s slide was fine. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was ejected.
The best analysis I’ve seen on the slide came from baseball writer Jon Bernhardt on Twitter, who pointed out that the slide violated Rule 6.01(i), which reads:
Since this has come up in replies — Rizzo did not violate rule 6.01(j). He violated 6.01(i). If this doesn't count as deviating from the direct pathway to initiate contact with the catcher, then it is fundamentally impossible to ever violate (i). pic.twitter.com/VzmsEdfBnu
— Nathan Bernhardt (@jonbernhardt) May 28, 2018
The accompanying freeze frame from the play shows Rizzo clearly deviating from his direct pathway.
Diaz felt Rizzo’s slide was not legal. Via MLB.com’s Adam Berry, Diaz said, “I understand that there’s old school baseball, but we’re not in old school baseball anymore.” He added, “I understand they called it a legal slide, but out of what I’ve been trained and what I’ve been told, that was not a legal slide. And I’m thinking of all the horrible things that could have happened in my career after that.”
Unsurprisingly, Cubs manager Joe Maddon thought Rizzo’s slide was legal and even said that it’s the type of play that kids should be taught. Via ESPN’s Jesse Rogers, he said:
…the player has not done anything wrong, but because of new rules, it makes him wear the black hat for the moment. That’s how you should teach your kids to slide and break up a double play at home. The catcher’s gotta clear the path. You have to teach proper technique. He’s gotta get out farther, he’s gotta keep his foot on the plate clear, because that’s absolutely what can happen. And I know because it happened to me. Same thing happened — the ball went down the right field corner. So my concern there was that they were going to attempt to review it in the same way you would review it at second base whereas there’s no base sticking up that you can hold on to. But once I settled down Bill [home plate umpire Welke] — Bill did a great job. Listen, this is tough on umpires, don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaming umpires at all. Umpires are awesome. They handled it perfectly. I’m the one that was being a jerk. When that happens, when that play gets turned over, there’s no base sticking up. They’re saying something about diverting to hit the catcher purposely or cleats in the air. All kinds of inane stuff. You’re teaching the fans the wrong thing. You’re worried about not getting people hurt, but then Rizzo in the eyes of the Pittsburgh fans did something wrong or dirty. And that is absolutely incorrect.
This isn’t the first time Rizzo has been on the hot seat for a slide into home plate, and it’s not the first time Maddon has jumped out to defend him. Rizzo slid into Padres catcher Austin Hedger in June last year. Maddon blamed Giants catcher Buster Posey — who suffered a season-ending injury when Scott Cousins slid into him in 2011 — for being the catalyst for Major League Baseball to implement a rule protecting catchers.
Maddon was wrong last year and he’s wrong now. And Major League Baseball needs to do a much better job of enforcing this rule in order to protect catchers.