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The 10.5: The Rizzo slide, Alex Reyes, Mr. Cardinals

The Rizzo slide

As you surely know by now, a couple of days ago Anthony Rizzo stirred up controversy when he made contact with Pirates catcher Elías Díaz while sliding into home in an attempt to break up a 6-2-3 double play. Rizzo succeeded. Díaz’s throw sailed into right field, two runs came around to score, and Díaz ended up on the ground in pain.

This probably doesn’t need to be re-litigated again, especially a couple of days after the fact, but I can't help when we decide to publish the 10.5 and I still want to look at three questions that sprung up in the ensuing controversy.

  1. Was this an illegal slide?

  2. Was it a dirty slide?

  3. If yes to #2, then is Anthony Rizzo a dirty player?

Regarding question #1, unless you’re a Cubs fan reacting in the immediate aftermath of the play, the almost-unanimous consensus seems to be that yes, Rizzo broke a rule. It was an illegal slide. MLB confirmed it the next day. That the umpires didn’t get this question right in real time doesn’t change anything. Craig Edwards of FanGraphs broke down the play as well as the rule book probably better than anyone and I recommend reading what he had to say.

Regarding #2, stipulating that a dirty play is one which has a decent chance of causing injury while also being unnecessary and/or avoidable, then Rizzo’s slide is a textbook example of a dirty play. Rizzo was out on the force home, i.e., his slide was unnecessary; he went out of his way, changed his path to make contact with Díaz, i.e., the contact was certainly avoidable; and Díaz got hurt. Thankfully, Díaz wasn’t seriously injured but it could have been much, much worse.

Now regarding #3, this is probably where I differ with a lot of you. I don’t think Rizzo is a dirty player, even though this isn’t his first time operating in this gray area since rules were changed a few seasons ago in an attempt to decrease not just collisions at the plate but also rough take-out slides. And it’s not that I don’t think Rizzo is a dirty player because he does good things off the field. Although that is certainly nice, and there was an SI profile on Rizzo in July of 2016 which portrayed him as a pretty interesting and good guy. But still, that’s irrelevant to the issue at hand.

Rather I don’t necessarily think Rizzo is a dirty player because I think a lot of us are underestimating how hard it is for players to avoid instinct when things happen in split-second time. As that play was unfolding, my guess (and to be clear, I'm projecting a lot here) is instinct told Rizzo that he needed to break up a double-play. I don’t think instinct was telling him to break up a double-play even if it meant potentially hurting Díaz in the process. I don’t think plays like this allow time for that sort of critical analysis, otherwise I don’t think Rizzo slides like that. Does it seem obvious in hindsight that a slide like that could cause injury? Certainly. Is it understandable for that not to be on a player’s mind while sprinting home? To me it is.

Now maybe I'm giving Rizzo too much benefit of the doubt. I suppose he could have been more apologetic in the aftermath. And Joe Maddon should have said anything other than the stupid things that he did say, which included getting angry at the Pittsburgh home crowd for booing Rizzo his next trip to the plate, saying, incredibly, that they should teach kids to slide this way, and then doubling down the following day by shifting the blame to Díaz for not being positioned correctly even though every replay, screenshot, or whatever showed Díaz to be well in front of the plate while attempting to throw it to first, and Rizzo being the one who went out of his way to initiate the contact.

And sure, I expect Maddon to publicly defend his players. But here’s all he had to say: “I know Anthony didn’t mean any harm and I thought it was a good, tough baseball play but if MLB sees it differently we’ll live with it.” That's it. But that’s not what he said because it’s apparent that Maddon wants to live in a baseball world that MLB trying to move away from. If that sort of primitive thinking has rubbed off on Rizzo and he actually goes into these plays thinking the safety and well-being of his opponent be damned, then we have a problem. I don’t think we’re there yet though.

Bottom line, the slide was against the rules. The slide was dirty. Rizzo, as Edwards noted in his column, should probably be punished even though there’s no indication that will happen. But these factors don't automatically imply malice.

Lastly, I suspect a lot of people have issue with Rizzo not just for incidents like this, but more for how he crowds the plate, earning him a lot of free trips to first via the hit-by-pitch or on a called ball four that should actually be a strike. That’s not Rizzo’s fault though. He’s playing within the parameters of which he’s been allowed by MLB, and that’s on the league to do better with rule enforcement and calling balls and strikes.

Mr. Cardinals

Excuse the shameless self-promotion, but a few weeks back I noted that Cardinals legend Red Schoendienst had a season in 1955 in which his slash line nearly matched that of the entire franchise going back to the late 1800s. To take it a step further, at the baseball site Banished to the Pen, I looked up every team's slash line and tried to find the player who came closest to matching it for their career while in that uniform. I looked at pitching, too (ERA/FIP/K%). If curious, the ultimate Cardinals are Coaker Triplett (who, admittedly, I had never heard of), and pitcher Larry Jackson.

Playoff odds

I'm sitting here watching the Cardinals predictably blow an early 4-0 lead on a day in which we learned that Alex Reyes is going to be back on the shelf for a significant period just a day after he was removed from his very first start because of a lat strain. Do you really care about this team's playoff odds right now? Me neither.


Recent words written about baseball that are worth reading

That does it for this edition of the 10.5. Take us home, Yairo.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

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