The Anthony Rizzo slide: a comprehensive breakdown

Making his Batflips and Nerds debut, we welcome guest writer Jason Toms, a Pirates fan who – shockingly – has a few things to say about Anthony Rizzo’s slide…

I’m going to try to remain objective here, but it’s difficult. I’m not an umpire, or a player, or a manager. I’m just an overly-opinionated guy on the internet that loves baseball, much like you (statistically likely) are.

For those who somehow don’t know, the Cubs sparked controversy during Monday’s game against the Pirates when Anthony Rizzo decided to ignore the rules and take out Elias Diaz to break up a double play at home plate.

Diaz’s throw sailed into right field as a result, and two runs scored on the play.

I first want to clarify something that seems to have gotten muddled. The rule that’s in question here is not the one colloquially named after Giants catcher Buster Posey. It was a force play and Rizzo was already out, so that rule isn’t relevant here.

Instead it’s the more recent rule colloquially named after Phillies/Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley. The rule can be found below (emphasis added by me):

“Rule 6.01(j) — Sliding to Bases on Double Play Attempts
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.

Three and a half out of four… is still against the rules.

Sliding is always going to be a contentious issue in this modern era. Players are paid too much to sit on the sidelines for a year because someone broke their leg to save an out. If anyone cares, I’m not sure the player with the broken leg would be too happy either (apparently they have feelings or something and aren’t machines?)

There are levels and degrees of slide, from the perfectly harmless, to the borderline, to the Hal McRae, and it can be hard to tell where the line is. But this one’s pretty clear to me. I’m not saying it’s McRae-like, but it’s illegal.

In terms of slides and their recklessness, there’s a scale.

At the top of the list, you’ve got the ancient, wild west, anything-goes slides. Ty Cobb and Hal McRae were the most famous culprits of these, before the “McRae rule”. See, before Royals wrecking ball  Hal McRae, there was no rule stating you had to slide into second base to break up a double play at all. Pre-McRae, you could just do this instead:

Ah, it was a different time. Realising this was baseball and not pro wrestling, it was swiftly tidied up.

Then there’s the infamous Chase Utley slide:

Doesn’t touch second base, doesn’t make an attempt to do so. He’s out by about thirty minutes and doesn’t even slide until he’s past the base. Hal would be proud, meanwhile Neil Ruddock is looking at this thinking “blimey, that’s a bit strong”. However, per the rules at the time, this was legal. Utley wasn’t doing anything wrong.

Near the top, in playoff contention, you have Matt Holliday:

Absolutely no intention of getting remotely close to second base, just wanted to take the guy out. Saying he didn’t intend to hurt the guy is like saying the mother who left her 4 year old kid alone with a gun didn’t intend for him to shoot himself. If you’re gonna be that stupid, it’s going to happen eventually and good luck convincing people it wasn’t your fault when it does.

Below that level… slightly… you’ve got maybe my “favourite” “dirty” slide of all time.  Take a bow, Brett Lawrie:

I’ve put this lower than the others purely because he at least pretended to make an effort to touch second base. This is great, though. I mean, look at it. First, it’s later than a British train, it’s essentially a dropkick – without watching the slow-mo it’s hard to be sure he touches the ground before he touches Escobar (he does, but it’s close). Secondly his foot is so high it’s nearly above his shoulder even while in flight – well above the base, which is why he flew straight over it. For me, the best part is that if he’d just attempted to reach the base properly he would’ve been safe, but he goes so far over the top in attempting to break up the ‘double’ play that he overshoots the bag entirely and Escobar tags him out whilst crumpling to the floor. Bravo, Brett. Way to go. Escobar would come out of the game and ultimately only miss two more before going on to be an All Star, ALCS MVP and World Series and Gold Glove winner that year. It’s not about whether an injury actually occurs though, it’s about the potential for one vs. the necessity/avoidability of it.

The above all have something in common: the perpetrators know they’re out, they don’t care about touching the bag (regardless of whether they could) they just want to break up the double play no matter how far from their path to the base they have to go to do it. The other thing they have in common is that they’re all illegal now. The difference, rules-wise, between the Rizzo slide and the Holliday, Lawrie and Utley slides above, is that it wasn’t specifically against the rules when Holliday, Lawrie and Utley did it. As potentially/actually dangerous as the other slides were, they were perfectly legal at the time they happened.

I’m not saying that Rizzo’s slide was as egregious as those above, but it was still illegal and should not have been allowed. That’s not being a ‘stickler’ or a ‘rules lawyer’, that’s trying to play the game the right way. The legal way. The way that players’ safety isn’t put at risk for no good reason by players who are already out of the play.

The main issue I (and many people I’ve spoken to) have with the Rizzo slide isn’t the chance of injury (sorry Elias, I do love you and that sounds pretty harsh upon re-reading it). Injuries are part of sports, and while effort should be made to eliminate the pointless, avoidable ones, we can’t make any game completely injury-free.

It’s not about the huge difference it made to the game, either. It made no difference at all. The Pirates had two hits all game (and one was wiped out by a double play, ironically). Two outs and a 3-0 deficit looks nowhere near as bad as one out and a 5-0 deficit regardless of base runners, but it’s not like the Pirates were about to suddenly start hitting and come back into the game, regardless. They could have, though.

The issue I have isn’t with Rizzo, either. Yes, being that squeaky-clean, that good looking and that bland is super irritating for some people. I mean, the guy beat cancer, on top of everything else. If they made a movie about Anthony Rizzo, it’d be panned. “Pff, c’mon!” reviewers would say. “This is so unrealistic, it’s too much! I feel sick! Blegh!”

I’m not saying Rizzo is a dirty player in any way. But he knew what he was doing was against the rules and did it anyway. His coach high-fived him for it whilst Diaz was rolling around on the floor (stay classy, Chicago). Then he acted all surprised when Pirates fans (in the midst of a dreadful game for their team during a month of disappointment after disappointment following a hot start) didn’t like it very much.

The issue I have with that play is that, whether you like it or not, the rule exists. It’s there, in black and white. It’s not the first time Rizzo has broken it and gotten away with it, and on Sunday the rule got completely ignored despite a review until after the game, when precisely nothing was done about it other than an admission that the officials screwed up.

(Wait, a play at the plate in a Pirates game that the umpire got wrong and MLB had to apologise for afterwards but did nothing about? Argh! Flashbacks!

What’s the point in the rule, then? Why bother reviewing it? Why introduce a rule, make a big hoo-ha about it, and then ignore it when it comes up? Clint Hurdle said it best. To paraphrase: if they’re not going to enforce the rules, it’s open season.

For what it’s worth, I’m glad there was no retaliation (at the time of writing). Proud, even, as a Pirates fan. It didn’t deserve retaliation in my view. The issue of intentionally beaning players with 90+mph baseballs out of revenge is a different topic for a different day. Maybe if Rizzo breaks Diaz’s leg, THEN a bit of retaliation should be expected. But here? No harm done, Diaz is fine, we’re being destroyed anyway… water under the bridge. He broke the rules, he got away with it juuuust long enough for there to be no action taken. End of story. Let’s move on.

There will be those that say “you’ve never played the game, you don’t understand”. I may not have played the game, but I can read. So, there’s that. There’s nothing to ‘understand’, here. We’re not talking about retaliatory fastballs to the butt, we’re not talking about bat flips after a home run, or bench-clearing brawls. We’re talking about rules, written in a rulebook, for all to see.

Some things never change. War, famously, never changes. The sky is pretty much always blue. The Cleveland Browns pretty much always suck. Joe Maddon will argue with literally anyone about literally anything, facts be damned… These things are accepted truths. Baseball does change though, it has changed. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. We’re not allowed to break a guy’s legs just to stop him throwing the ball these days. Sucks, I know… but there it is.

Update: Sigh, so now we have to talk about the Joe Musgrove slide. Thanks, Joe. Also illegal. Musgrove never alters his path, starts sliding before the base (a little later than I’d like, but legal…), is clearly able and attempts to reach the base (he slides right over it) but isn’t able and doesn’t attempt to remain on the base after the slide, therefore he fails one of the four conditions just like Rizzo did. As conceited and annoying as the Cubs announcers are, they got this one right (probably a happy accident). “Came off the bag, double play”. He didn’t need to keep saying it over and over like a petulant child, but each to their own.

Where Rizzo was screwed as soon as he left his running lane to veer into Diaz intentionally, Musgrove was running right at Baez the whole time. Baez was standing right behind the bag, which is hardly Musgrove’s fault. All Musgrove had to do to make his slide perfectly legal was hold onto the base after finishing the slide. He doesn’t do that, he slides right through and stands up. So it’s interference just like Rizzo because he made no attempt to stay on the bag. That play was non-reviewable because Baez didn’t attempt to make a play, but it was nonetheless illegal.

For those still unsure despite MLB’s clarification:

Here’s Anthony Rizzo, running down the base path in foul territory with a perfectly clear lane to home plate.

Here he is a while later, still pretty much on course but at this point all hope of scoring a run is lost (failing Diaz’s arm falling off unexpectedly in the next few milliseconds) due to the impending doom that is the force out a few feet away from being complete.

We check in with our intrepid hero a few moments later… and oh dear! Things have started to go awry. He’s out by this point, Diaz has completely vacated the plate and turned to throw to first for the double play. But, as mentioned earlier, that’s irrelevant – the runner’s allowed to slide and finish the play. He can even go through the fielder if he needs to in order to reach the base, as long as he doesn’t suddenly veer off course to intentionally make contac- oh dear. Abort, Anthony! Abort!

Well, that’s done it. He’s nowhere near his original running lane now, having clearly left it to pursue Diaz. The plate is completely open for him as Diaz is about three feet away from it, but instead Rizzo’s elected to abandon his lane completely and dive into Diaz’s feet to take him out for no reason other than to illegally attempt to break up a double play.

If you enforce the rules, then: Rizzo’s forced out, the batter (Giminez) is out via interference and the Cubs are left with men on second (Schwarber) and third (Baez) with two outs in the top of the 8th. Logic dictates they still win from here, however 3-0 looks a lot better than what would later become 7-0 by the end of the game.

One comment

  1. I love the article. This comment coming from a fellow Pirates fan here in Pittsburgh. You also forgot about the Coughlin slide into Kang before the Utley slide. The Musgrove slide was retribution for the Rizzo slide.

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