Retaliation

David Bell Didn’t Like What Chris Archer Did To The Point That He’s No Longer Making Sense

Bell argues

Reds manager David Bell got to talking with reporters on Tuesday about his team’s Let-the-Kids-Play fight with the Pirates, for which he was ejected and ultimately suspended, and unfortunately for those following along, his comments didn’t make a whole lot of sense. All quotes from the Dayton Daily News:

  • “[Derek] Dietrich clearly didn’t do anything wrong because he wasn’t ejected or suspended. If MLB has a problem with what Derek did then there needs to be a rule against what he did.”

There is a rule against what he did—it’s unwritten, and it’s been around for about as long as baseball itself. We have recently been lulled into thinking that it’s no longer enforced, which seemed to be fine until we realize that  guys like Chris Archer still inhabit pitcher’s mounds. MLB promotional slogans aside, the reality is that some players still don’t appreciate showboating. Dietrich can pimp any homer any way he’d like; he just has to cop to the possibility that he’ll piss somebody off in the process.

To Bell’s other point, a lack of prohibition against a given act in the rulebook doesn’t automatically make that act acceptable. Had Dietrich, unprovoked, decided to approach the Pittsburgh bench and spit tobacco juice onto Clint Hurdle’s cleats, he wouldn’t have broken any rules. He’d still be an asshole, though.  

  • “I had one intention [in coming out to argue the call] and that was to defend our team and to defend our hitter and to get Archer ejected.”

Never mind that that’s technically three intentions. Trying to get Archer ejected without a warning for throwing a pitch that didn’t come close to hitting a batter is, to put it exceedingly mildly, a stretch.

  • “I felt my only course of action was to get their pitcher ejected for intentionally trying to hurt our player.”

It’s unclear how throwing a ball below the belt and well behind a hitter in any way constitutes intent to injure. By this point in the conversation Bell is in full-fledged protect-my-guy mode, and appears to be spitting out whichever authoritarian argument reaches his brain first.

  • “Whether they throw at their heads or their backs or their legs, it is all the same to me. For that to be OK, or even somewhat acceptable that it wasn’t at his head, to me that is a very dangerous approach.”

This is where Bell really goes off the rails, because drawing false equivalences can be downright dangerous. What Archer did was clearly not the same as throwing at an opponent’s head. What Archer did was not even the same as drilling a guy in the ribs. Any modern pitcher who intentionally rifles a ball above somebody’s shoulders becomes an automatic pariah among his peers, and rightly so. Chris Archer does not remotely fit that bill, at least to judge by his approach to Dietrich.

  • “I don’t know what those [unwritten] rules are. All I know is this is pretty simple—our hitter hit a home run and didn’t do anything against major league rules or the umpire’s rule or anybody’s else’s rules. But everybody in the ballpark knew he was going to have to stand up there and possibly get hit with a fastball, maybe hit in the head and done damage.”

Waitaminute. If everybody in the ballpark knew that retaliation was imminent, Dietrich must have done something pretty obvious to inspire it. One needn’t approve of Archer’s response to acknowledge this reality.

David Bell is well respected around the sport, deservedly so, and I agree with him that pitchers have no business seeking physical retribution for an act so simple as showboating. But that’s an awfully high horse he’s decided to mount in Dietrich’s defense—so high that he appears to have lost all contact with what’s actually happening below. Defending his players is part of the guy’s job, but over the last couple of days Bell may have been throwing himself into his work with just a touch too much vigor.

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Retaliation

Pirates, Reds Argue Whether We’re Actually Ready To Let The Kids Play

Puig fights

So it seems that we’re now talking in matters of degrees. We’re going to let the kids play and flip themselves silly and celebrate in all sorts of ways that would have gotten them drilled by a previous generation of pitchers, and baseball is going to be better for it.

At least until somebody acts exactly like MLB has promoted in its own promotional campaigns and we’re reminded that red-assed pitchers maybe don’t watch too many commercials and somebody does something stupid and we’re right back to where we started.

We’re talking of course, about Pittsburgh’s Chris Archer in the role of the Red-Ass, and Cincinnati’s Derek Dietrich in the role of the Kid (never mind that he’s 29, only six months younger than Archer—a marketing slogan is a marketing slogan), and Yasiel Puig as the enforcer of a player’s right to showboat. (Who better, amiright?)

A quick recap: In the second inning of yesterday’s game, Dietrich yammed a monster homer clear into the Allegheny, then stood in the box watching it for what even by let-the-kids-play standards seemed like an exceedingly long time.

Pittsburgh catcher Francisco Cervelli was the first to express displeasure, waiting as Dietrich crossed the plate to deliver some words of rapprochement, to which the runner did not respond. (According to Puig, Cervelli also warned that retaliation was coming, which, if true, surely played no small part in what was to come.)

Archer continued his team’s messaging during Dietrich’s next at-bat, sending a pitch to the backstop, just behind the hitter’s rear end. Dietrich barely had to flinch to avoid it. Plate ump Jeff Kellogg immediately warned both benches. This is where things got interesting.

While Dietrich was downright passive in his response, Reds manager David Bell tore from the dugout to argue the warning, followed closely by a number of Reds players and coaches, notably Puig. Almost instantly, fists were thrown. (Again: notably Puig.) Cincinnati’s Bell, Puig and reliever Amir Garrett were ejected, as were Pittsburgh’s Felipe Vazquez and Keone Kela.

There’s a lot to unpack here. On one hand, Archer delivered a clear and harmless message, sent well behind the batter, below his belt. Annoying maybe, but hardly impactful. (“When someone is throwing at someone, they are trying to inflict pain or possibly hurt someone or send a message,” Dietrich said after the game, overblowing the details by a considerable margin.)

On the other hand, it was clear hypocrisy on Archer’s part, the idea being that a pitcher like him—a showboat in his own right—has no business getting angry when an opponent dishes out some of his own. And make no mistake: Archer’s emotional displays are prevalent to the point that his own team released a promo video about them before the game.

Or, take Bell, whose argument with Kellogg was that by acting so quickly, the umpire denied the Reds a chance to respond. Unless his argument was that Archer should have been ejected without warning. Either of which are nonsense, given that it was the Reds who started it, and that Pittsburgh’s answer didn’t even involve drilling a guy. What did Bell want to do? Escalate the situation by having one of his pitchers hit a Pirate? Send a similar message without fear of ejection? To what end?

Ultimately, of course, it won’t matter. If Bell or any member of his team is bent on responding, they’ll have no problem waiting until the next time the teams meet at the end of May. It’d be stupid, but that’s their prerogative.

There’s also the idea that, according to the unwritten rules, the aggrieved party in this type of situation dictates his team’s response. Had Dietrich made a mad dash for the mound, it would have made sense for his teammates to follow. But Dietrich didn’t do a thing. When Bell came out to argue, Puig seized the opportunity, vaulting the dugout rail to confront Archer on the field. Puig, of course, has never been much for the unwritten rules. This alone will earn him a suspension.

If you really want to get into the woods, examine the postgame sentiments of Vazquez, one of those ejected. “[Dietrich] shouldn’t have done that,” he said in a Pittsburgh-Post Gazette report. “That’s against the principles. If you do something like that you’re going to pay for it. We’re trying to play the game the right way by respecting it. Joey [Votto] can do it because he’s been here a long time. But a guy like him isn’t supposed to do that. He hasn’t earned the right. It was a little too much. We all knew it was going to be far but you’re not supposed to wait until the ball hits the ground to start running. You aren’t supposed to do that.”

The idea of veterans earning various rights not granted to their less-seasoned contemporaries is ages-old in baseball and, if expressed 20 years ago, wouldn’t be surprising. But in a landscape where an abundance of voices are calling for freer reign—to let the kids play—it’s an odd message. By Vazquez’s logic, the kids should be hamstrung, just like they always were, remaining reserved in their actions until such time as they’re sufficiently tenured to loosen up. That is, until they’re no longer kids.

Then again, Vazquez (née Rivero), as a Venezuelan national, is taking a decidedly counter approach to that espoused by a great many Latino players, who generally tend to default toward more celebratory practices, not fewer.

Ultimately, did Dietrich learn any lessons? To judge by the homer he hit six innings later, almost to the same spot as the first, no. He stood and admired that one, too.

The best thing to come out of this was @stormchasernick’s response to Cut4’s suggestion about art.

Reds-Pirates, May 27. Mark it on your calendars.

Update, 4-09-19: Archer has been suspended for five games, Puig for two and Bell for one. The Archer penalty in particular, which will only force him to bump back a start for a day or two, shows that MLB viewed his actions as relatively inconsequential. Which makes sense, given that he didn’t come close to hitting anybody.

Update, 4-11-19: David Bell’s talking, but he’s not making much sense.

Retaliation

With Springtime Tit-For-Tat, Pirates and Rays Already In Midseason Form

Spring Training

Spring training has long been a place to settle old scores. Want to drill a guy without repercussions to your regular-season ERA? Save it for March. Just this morning I saw a tweet from @RememberWhenMLB …

… about one of the very first topics I covered upon launching this blog back in 2010. Zito did what he had to do, Fielder took it in stride, and everybody moved along their merry ways.

Baseball was different then; retaliation for personal expression is far less expected now than it was even a decade ago. This is a good thing. But just because someone like Zito is less likely to throw at someone like Fielder in the modern version of spring training doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen.

Just ask the Pirates.

In a game between the Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay yesterday, two Rays pitchers—Ryne Stanek and Oliver Drake—hit Pirates batters in the early going. Unless there’s some yet-to-be-publicized bad blood (unlikely given that the last time these teams  played each other in the regular season, 2017, none of the four principals—the batters who got hit or the pitchers who hit them—were even on their respective rosters), those pitches were purely accidental. Because of course they were. It’s the only reasonable explanation.

For Pirates pitcher Clay Holmes, it didn’t matter. The right-hander responded by drilling Pirates infielder Willy Adames. (He later denied intent, which is itself believable given that the primary knock on Holmes is his control.) For Rays manager Kevin Cash, however, Holmes’ motivation was clear. “Are you happy?” he yelled across the field from his dugout after the pitch connected.

Holmes, a 26-year-old who made it into 11 games last year in his first season in the big leagues, understands that the best way to curry favor in one’s clubhouse is to stand up for one’s teammates in any way necessary. While the scope of the word “necessary” can shift from player to player, there’s no mistaking that with one simple fastball, the right-hander established that the Pirates have at least one guy among their ranks unwilling to tolerate abuse (whether real or perceived) to his teammates.

Never mind that it’s ludicrous to send a message about mistake pitches thrown during a period in the schedule when ballplayers are mainly trying to work out winter kinks. (Hell, Drake’s a non-roster invitee who started his appearance with six straight balls.)

Plate ump Bill Welke actually warned both benches, to ensure that the foolishness went no further. “It’s weird in spring training,” said a baffled Adames after the game, in a Tampa Bay Times report. “You’re not expecting that.”

Nossir, you’re not. We’re now faced with the dual possibilities of A) This going away quickly because who really cares, and B) It’s still only spring training, so if Cash or any of his charges wants to respond, they have massive latitude to do so. Let’s hope it’s the former.

[H/T Road Dog Russ]

Slide properly

Slide On Down: Baseball’s Newfound Sensitivity Problem When It Comes To The Basepaths

Sogard slides IIWho’d have guessed that the primary unwritten-rules-related topic of Major League Baseball 2018 wouldn’t be bat flips or even retaliatory pitches, but guys sliding into bases? In the modern world of fielder safety, we’ve reached the point that players are managing to get offended even on properly executed slides.

First case in point: Last Friday in Milwaukee, the slide of Brewers infielder Eric Sogard was cut off prematurely when Cardinals shortstop Yairo Munoz, shifting over to field the throw, impeded his progress. It was a clean play all around—these things sometimes happen—yet feelings nonetheless managed to get scuffed. Sogard got up talking (“The first words that came out of my mouth,” he told reporters after the game, “were ‘are you all right?’ “), Munoz got up angry, and within moments the benches had emptied.

Harrison slidesThen on Tuesday, Pittsburgh’s Josh Harrison slid forcefully into second base, upending Mets second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera. The slide was legit, and Cabrera didn’t seem to take offense—but New York pitcher Jeurys Familia did, starting a shouting match with Harrison that, like Sogard’s play in Milwaukee, drew both teams onto the field.

These follow a questionable slide already executed this season by Roughned Odor in Anaheim, tit-for-tat slides in Pittsburgh, a dustup over a slide in Wrigley Field, and a slide that left the Yankees and Red Sox brawling on the Fenway Park infield. Collectively, it’s served to illustrate the unintended consequence of Major League Baseball’s recent efforts to insure the safety of catchers and infielders via ever more restrictive regulations against impact. The tighter the rules, after all, the more likely it is that somebody will violate them … and the more likely that defenders will imagine violations where none exist.

Once, of course, it was legal to crash into any base in whatever way a runner saw fit, short of standing up to take a guy out. Hal McRae was the king of high barrel rolls into second base, knocking fielders backward with such viciousness that the play was eventually outlawed with an injunction that is now informally known as the Hal McRae rule. Even recently, however, low barrel rolls were seen as acceptable, none more exemplary than Alex Rodriguez’s slide into second that took out Jeff Kent’s knee in 1998. Kent was decidedly displeased, but on the whole, critics viewed the play as clean.

An example of barrel-rolling from the 1972 World Series, via SB Nation. Poor Dick Green.

After Don Baylor crashed into Cleveland second baseman Remy Hermoso in 1974 (a late feed from shortstop Frank Duffy had left Hermoso directly in Baylor’s path while awaiting the throw)—a blow that knocked the infielder out of action for nearly four months—Orioles manager Earl weaver had to convince Baylor that the play was clean, and that such collisions were simply part of the game. It was the only time in Baylor’s 19-year career, he said later, that he ever felt bad about taking out an infielder in such a manner.

Former Rangers manager (and career infielder) Ron Washington once explained to me that, as a coach, an appropriate response to such a play was not anger toward the opposition but better protection for one’s own infielders. “I told my guys to protect your ass at all times,” he said. “Don’t go across that bag on a double-play, lollygagging. You go across that bag with two things in mind: I’m gonna turn this sucker, and if anybody gets in my way I’m gonna blow him apart [low-bridging a throw, forcing the runner to hit the dirt to avoid it]. … I don’t care how simple the play is, you get yourself in a position of protection, because you never know.”

No longer. Dave Nelson talked about this very topic in an interview for The Baseball Codes in 2006, when he was a coach for Milwaukee.

“I’ll give you a good example,” he said. “Carlos Lee went into Todd Walker last year, hard, clean. Put Walker out of the game, hurt his knee. So one of my players, Russell Branyan says, ‘That’s a dirty play.’ And I said, ‘What? That’s not a dirty play. He went in there clean and hard.’ He said, ‘Yeah, but according to today’s standards, that’s dirty, because nobody does it.’ I said, ‘That’s the problem—nobody does it.’ He didn’t go out there to hurt him, he went out there to take him out of the double play. This is guys’ mentality today. This is how they think.”

That was before baseball implemented its current spate of rules.

I examined this evolution a couple years back, well before the current spate of basepath-related issues. What’s changed since that time is further restrictions on what players can legally do. Now, it seems, anything outside the proscribed guidelines—and sometimes well within them—is spurring players to anger. It goes a long way toward illustrating the effect of inherent competitiveness on a constrained landscape. The window for what is considered to be appropriate behavior in this regard is more diminutive than ever (even while the window for appropriate behavior as pertains to celebrations has been thrown wide open). Ballplayers have gained a new layer of entitlement, and damned if they’re not going to leverage it for all it’s worth.

After the Pirates-Mets game in which Josh Harrison was upbraided by Jeurys Familia for a perfectly acceptable slide, the Pittsburgh infielder took a reasoned approach to the situation.

“Apparently he said, ‘Play the game the right way,’ ” Harrison told reporters after his dustup with Familia. “If you go back and look at the footage, I think I played the game the right way. Didn’t touch the guy, broke up a double play without hurting the guy or touching the guy. At the end of the day, I think that’s playing the game the right way.”

It is. Here’s hoping that the rest of baseball can come to recognize as much before too much longer.

Retaliation

Retaliatory Smackdown Comes Back To Bite Pirates

Musgrove drills

Wait for it.

That’s a prime directive when it comes to baseball retaliation, instructing pitchers hell-bent on drilling a guy to delay their vengeance until the time is right. What that means, of course, is up for interpretation, and sometimes players interpret wrong.

Joe Musgrove is one of those guys.

In the top of the seventh inning, Arizona’s Braden Shipley buried a 96-mph fastball into the top of Josh Harrison’s shoulder blade, just missing his head. The blow eventually knocked Harrison from the game. Shipley then sent another fastball near Austin Meadows’ head before getting him to fly out to center field.

That was enough for Musgrove, who responded in kind in the bottom half of the frame. What the Pirates right-hander had working in his favor was a 5-0 lead, plus the fact that he’d given up only four hits and no walks to that point. Musgrove was cruising, and so felt little need to wait until two were out, as is standard operating procedure in these types of situations.

He drilled leadoff hitter Chris Owings (appropriately, below the belt), and everything went immediately to hell. Musgrove then wild-pitched Owings to second. Nick Ahmed singled in Owings, cutting Pittsburgh’s lead to 5-1. Shipley, hitting for himself, reached on a throwing error by third baseman David Freese (who inexplicably rushed his throw), and that was all for Musgrove. Reliever Edgar Santana was greeted with an RBI single by Daniel Descalso. Now the score was 5-2. One out later, Jake Lamb hit a three-run homer, tying the game. Arizona scored four more in the eighth to win it, 9-5.

 

“That’s how the game is played,” said Musgrove after the game, straddling the line of self-incrimination in an MLB.com report. “You’re willing to go out and hit somebody, you’ve got to be willing to deal with what might come with that, putting the leadoff runner on base, especially late in the game like that. You don’t want to start a rally.”

At least his manager had his back. “You play the game and you protect your teammates,” said Clint Hurdle. “It’s been going on for 135 years or so.” (It also appeared that the umpires had the pitcher’s back, failing to issue warnings after Musgrove drilled Owings in clear retaliation.)

The fateful HBP was actually one of five in the game, two coming from Arizona relievers, and three from Musgrove. Save for the final one, to which the pitcher all but admitted, intent behind the preceding four is strictly conjecture. Even if Shipley’s two pitches (the fateful one to Harrison, and the nearly fateful one to Meadows) were strictly accidental, the idea of a pitcher taking liberties around the head with a blazing fastball over which he has little control is rightly infuriating to opponents. Calmer pitchers than Musgrove have been inspired toward retaliation by less.

This actually has been a theme of sorts around the Pirates clubhouse of late. Two weeks ago, Anthony Rizzo took out Pittsburgh catcher Elias Diaz with a wide slide. After reliever Richard Rodriguez didn’t so much as pitch inside to Rizzo during his next at-bat, Musgrove took things into his own hands the following day, barreling into Cubs second baseman Javier Baez with a retaliatory slide into second.  “Trust me, we’ve talked about it,” said Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon in the Athletic. “We’ve had internal discussions.”

Taillon spent a few minutes after the game discussing the merits of retaliation. He doesn’t necessarily speak for the Pirates as a whole, but as of right now he’s the guy going on the record in any kind of depth.

“They can say the ball slipped, but it’s not our job to judge intent,” he said. “All I can tell you is J-Hay [Harrison] gets pitched in a lot. And even if it’s not on purpose, J-Hay gets hit way too much. I get sick of seeing him get spun around up there—sick of it. Something needs to be done by the staff, and Joe did it for us.”

That, of course, doesn’t much matter in the face of the ensuing meltdown by Pittsburgh’s bullpen.

“I don’t really know what’s going on inside their dugout, but if it was retaliation, it certainly cost their pitcher a couple of runs and it might have cost them a win,” Arizona manager Tory Lovullo said in an Arizona Republic report. “We were lying flat and dormant and being dominated by him, and I felt like it gave our dugout a lot of energy.”

That much is certain. Musgrove might not change a thing if he had it all to do over again, but given the results of his approach, it’s tough to deny that one can never be too careful in this type of situation.

Basepath Retaliation, Collisions, Retaliation

Pittsburgh Responds To Rizzo Takeout: You Slide Into Mine, I’ll Slide Into Yours

Musgrove slides

They were back at it in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, the Cubs and Pirates coming to a head over the second questionable slide in a three-game span. This time it was the Pirates hitting the dirt, as pitcher Joe Musgrove powered into second with a blatantly late slide in an effort to disrupt a double play. (Watch it here.)

This time it was Javy Baez on the receiving end, and though the slide did no damage, he wasn’t pleased. Musgrove leaped so late that he landed virtually atop the bag, his momentum carrying him straight past it. In so doing he violated two of the four tenets of Rule 6.01(j), which we’ve heard an awful lot about recently. It reads:

 

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.

 

Baez knew that Musgrove’s slide wasn’t by the book, and as the pitcher started back toward Pittsburgh’s dugout, let him know about it. Things hardly grew heated—Baez gently put a hand on the Musgrove’s hip in a “there, there” kind of way—and though benches cleared, players never came close to fighting.

 

For a blog about unwritten rules, we’ve sure spent a lot of time recently on the written ones. Still, there’s an awful lot of subtext here. Musgrove’s slide was about much more than hard-nosed baseball—it was about retaliation for Anthony Rizzo’s disputed takeout of Pittsburgh catcher Elias Diaz on Monday. Musgrove admitted as much, telling reporters after the game: “I was trying to go in hard like their guy did. [Baez] should’ve got out of the way, I guess.”

Not enough? The pitcher elaborated.

“We’re not trying to fight anybody here,” he said in an MLB.com report. “We’re not trying to cause any problems, but you blindside our catcher when he’s got no chance to defend himself … That’s something that I feel like is part of baseball. I don’t think he was happy that I went after their guy or anything like that, but yeah, you try to pick up your teammates where you can. I didn’t hurt him. I easily could have made a dirty slide, but I feel like I made a clean slide and went in hard.”

It’s a simple message. The cleanliness of Musgrove’s slide is up for debate, but his claims about not wanting to injure anybody are valid. Baez himself believed them, telling reporters after the game: “I’m not saying it was a bad slide, but he just went hard. I asked him, ‘What was that about?’ He said, ‘Sorry,’ and the conversation was over.”

Musgrove sent a message, to the Cubs and his own team alike, that plays like Rizzo’s will be answered. It was a canny decision. As a pitcher, Musgrove easily could have conveyed the sentiment with a message pitch, but by going slide-for-slide, he was able to provide tangible support for his teammates in an aboveboard fashion.

Musgrove—a third-year pitcher trying to establish himself after coming over from Houston in the Gerrit Cole trade—earned a measure of clubhouse standing with seven innings of one-run ball on Wednesday. He may have earned even more with his slide.

Collisions

Rizzo’s Romp: Old-School Play In A New-Era Sport Leaves Many People Angry

Rizzo slides

In this kinder, gentler MLB, we’re facing what has become a string of uncomfortable conversations about basepath etiquette, delineating not only what is legal, but what is right. It started in April, when a wide slide into second by New York’s Tyler Austin took out Red Sox shortstop Brock Holt and, after a retaliatory strike, led to a full-fledged brawl on the Fenway Park infield.

Monday’s slide into the plate by Anthony Rizzo was quieter than that, if only because the Pirates chose not to retaliate. Rizzo had come home on a bases-loaded grounder to shortstop, and took out the right ankle of Elias Diaz, despite the catcher having already made the putout and cleared the box as he prepared to fire the ball to first base to complete the double play. The ensuing throw went wild, allowing Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber to score on the error. Diaz remained on the ground for a while, clutching at his leg, but did not leave the game.

On the one hand, this is classic baseball. Double-plays are meant to be broken up, and Rizzo did nothing untoward in terms of raising his spikes or barreling into the catcher. His slide kept him within easy reach of the plate and was textbook clean. It unfolded exactly as intended, impacting Diaz enough to disrupt the throw.

On the other hand, Rizzo had only one reason to be where he was: taking out the catcher. Because Diaz had cleared out appropriately, ceding the entire plate to the runner, Rizzo had to deviate from his route (defined as the path taken by a runner directly to the next base) to force impact. Rizzo had been approaching the plate from the foul side of the baseline before veering toward the catcher. This is in direct violation of Rule 6.01(j), which says that a runner must “slide within reach of the base without changing his pathway for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder.”

 

After initial review, the slide was ruled to be within the boundaries of the rulebook, but MLB announced yesterday that it should have been interference, which would have wiped the runs from the play off the board. (Given that the Pirates were shut out in what became a 7-0 game, it was hardly the difference in victory and defeat.)

What we’re left with is the gray area between rules and interpretation of those rules. Catcher safety came to the forefront with Scott Cousins’ collision with Buster Posey back in 2011, and has only grown more pronounced since then. Why does it keep happening?

In this case, the answer appears to reside with the Cubs themselves. Rizzo’s slide was clearly illegal—MLB itself said as much—but was it dirty? Various members of Chicago’s roster and front office seem to think otherwise. “The catcher’s gotta clear the path,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon told reporters. “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.”

There is no way to deny that the catcher cleared out. It’s right there on video. Even Rizzo did not dispute that Diaz ceded the entire baseline. It’s part of a manager’s job to take heat for his players, and maybe that was Maddon’s endgame, but his comment makes no sense.

Also, it was only his opening salvo. Later, the manager tried to shift the conversation from player safety to Rizzo’s reputation.

“For that group out there that believes Anthony is dirty in any way, shape or form, that’s my biggest concern about this rule,” Maddon said on Tuesday. “Because all of a sudden, either it’s an announcer or a fan base or somebody that believes Anthony did something dirty. It’s only because the catcher fell down. I mean, seriously, that’s all that was about. And that’s such a bad interpretation of all of that.”

It’s only because the catcher fell down is among the most ludicrous pieces of baseball analysis ever presented in earnest by an informed source. Diaz fell down because Rizzo went out of his way to take him down. Feel free to debate the merits of Rizzo’s slide, but don’t blame it on Diaz.

Maddon’s comments might be more easily taken as defense of his player had the slide been a lone blip on Rizzo’s radar. Instead, it seems to be a pattern. Last year, he took out San Diego catcher Austin Hedges in similar fashion (while trying to score, not to break up a double play), and encountered similar sentiments about dirty play from the viewing public—but not from his team’s management. Maddon went on record, repeatedly, defending the slide.

 

 

Which cuts to the heart of the issue. Rizzo’s takeout of Diaz was called dirty by people all the way up to the league office, yet he earned support for it from both Maddon and Cubs GM Theo Epstein. Unless the league steps in with penalties (unlikely) or the Pirates step up with retaliation (also unlikely, despite calls for it from the local press), why on earth would Rizzo change this facet of the game, especially when he’s lauded for it inside his clubhouse?

Maddon went so far as to call baseball’s catcher-safety rule “nebulous with regards to interpretation,” but there’s nothing nebulous about Rizzo drifting from his baseline to take out Diaz. Any team that encourages its players in that direction is treading a dangerously ignorant line.

Adherents to baseball’s unwritten rules are frequently labeled as out of touch with modern culture. This, though, is an instance of an old-school acolyte going out of his way to be anachronistic. Joe Maddon really ought to know better.