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Anthony Rizzo trucked Austin Hedges and is a dirty player.

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This play will draw criticism from both sides, but it’s a dirty play no matter how you look at it.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Chicago Cubs
Not only is this poor sliding form, it’s a dirty play.
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Let me set the scene for you. It’s the bottom of the sixth inning in Wrigleyville, and Anthony Rizzo is on third base. Kris Bryant hits a liner to shallow center, and Matt Szczur runs in to make the play. Rizzo tags up, and Szczur makes a great throw right on the money to Austin Hedges to catch Rizzo dead-to-rights at home. Double play, inning over, but it wasn’t that simple. Rather than trying to slide around Hedges’ tag, Rizzo elected to do this:

Anthony Rizzo clearly slid inside the lane provided by Hedges and initiated contact, presumably in an attempt to dislodge the ball. It’s an old-school, hard-nosed baseball play that some old-timers will applaud, but to anyone with some common sense it’s a cheap shot that falls well outside the spirit of the game. In case you’re not seeing what exactly was wrong with this maneuver, @SacBuntChris made this nifty diagram:

Rule 7.13, casually called the “Buster Posey Rule”, states as follows:

A runner may not run out of a direct line to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher, or any player, covering the plate. If he does, the umpire can call him out even if the player taking the throw loses possession of the ball.

The catcher may not block the pathway of a runner attempting to score unless he has possession of the ball. If the catcher blocks the runner before he has the ball, the umpire may call the runner safe.

Again, Hedges clearly made a pathway available to Rizzo along the base path, and no part of his body was blocking it, even after he received the ball. Rizzo could have slid outside the line and might have had a chance of sliding under a tag. Instead, he turned up the line and right into Hedges. However, since Hedges held on to the ball, the ruling doesn’t apply because the runner was out anyway. Hedges was replaced by backup Luis Torrens when the Padres took the field for the 7th inning, and no announcement regarding Hedges’ condition has been made, but he was clearly shaken up after the play.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon apparently didn’t see anything wrong with the play. Here’s what he had to say about it after the game:

You don’t see it any more because the runner thinks he has to avoid the [contact]; he doesn’t! If the guy’s in the way you’re still enabled to hit ‘em; I think we’ve just re-trained the mind so much right there that they look to miss ‘em. And I’d much prefer what Rizz did tonight, and what he did was right! Absolutely right, so there’s nothing wrong with that, nobody could tell me differently. It’s a good play, if the catcher’s in the way, you don’t try to avoid him in an effort to score and hurt yourself. You hit him, just like Rizz did.

The problem with Maddon’s whole statement there is that the catcher wasn’t blocking the plate, and Rizzo’s best chance at scoring was actually to avoid the contact and probably minimize any injury to both the catcher and the runner. Naturally, you’d expect a manager to stand up for his own player, but in this case one can only wonder what his tone might have been had the uniforms been reversed.

The only proper recourse here would be for Major League baseball to step in and rule that Rizzo’s play was unsportsmanlike and levy some punishment upon him... which is entirely unlike the Commissioner’s Office. In that case, the only other recourse the Padres would have is to enact their own “revenge” under the bylaws of the “unwritten rules” of baseball. When Rizzo came up to bat later in the game, the game was close with runners on base, which is the wrong time to be issuing a free pass to a runner. Many Padres fans will be watching closely tomorrow, as Rizzo steps in to lead off tomorrow’s game. Will he wear one? Will that be an adequate payback for bringing high knees into the ribs of our swoontastic franchise catcher? Tune in tomorrow to find out.