In keeping with ancient baseball tradition, we're passing final and lasting judgment on a recent baseball controversy. That's why we call this Kangaroo Court -- it's a nod to the old days when a veteran player would preside over clubhouse "legal proceedings" and mete out fines based on baseball-related offenses. For instance, if you fail to advance a runner, take too long rounding the bases, wear the wrong jersey to batting practice, or in the case of former Red Sox manager John McNamara use aerosol deodorant as hairspray, you get fined by the judge. These days, the Kangaroo Court is a clubhouse relic of the past, but we're here to revive it and to bring the mechanisms of baseball justice to bear on present-day dust-ups, hostilities, and close calls.
By now you know what happened. During Monday night's Padres-Cubs tilt (CHC 3, SDO 2), Chicago first baseman Anthony Rizzo slid hard into Padres catcher Austin Hedges during a play at the plate. Hedges held onto the ball, and Rizzo was called out. However, the real controversy was whether RIzzo went out of his way to slide into Hedges. and noted that the Padres seemed none too pleased afterward. Now, though, it's time for some Kangaroo Court action on the matter ...
The case for Rizzo
It was an instinctive play, and Rizzo, in the rush of the moment, could have plausibly thought that Hedges was blocking the plate. The MLB video pretty much captures that "quick-twitch decision" angle ...
Collisions will happen, and Rizzo can't be held to account for a snapshot judgment call like that at the last moment.
The case against Rizzo
Well, here's another angle on the play ...
This one makes it pretty obvious that Rizzo did deviate from his path in order to initiate contact with Hedges. By the looks of things, Rizzo had a clear path to the plate, but instead he went at Hedges who was set up with the ball somewhat "north" of the dish. This one seems to show that Rizzo altered his path very late in his journey toward the plate ...
At this point, it's worth quoting the relevant official rule ...
6.01 (i) (7.13) Collisions at Home Plate
(1) A runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate), or otherwise initiate an avoidable collision. If, in the judgment of the umpire, a runner attempting to score initiates contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate) in such a manner, the umpire shall declare the runner out (regardless of whether the player covering home plate maintains possession of the ball). In such circumstances, the umpire shall call the ball dead, and all other base runners shall return to the last base touched at the time of the collision. If the runner slides into the plate in an appropriate manner, he shall not be adjudged to have violated Rule 6.01(i) (Rule 7.13).
Yep, there's the clear ban on deviating from the path, and, again, in the second and third videos above, it's plainly obvious that Rizzo is deviating, just as it's clear that Hedges isn't blocking the plate in any meaningful sense. Also, note this comment on the relevant rule (emphasis mine, but it can be yours, too) ...
Rule 6.01(i)(1) Comment (Rule 7.13(1) Comment): The failure by the runner to make an effort to touch the plate, the runner's lowering of the shoulder, or the runner's pushing through with his hands, elbows or arms, would support a determination that the runner deviated from the pathway in order to initiate contact with the catcher in violation of Rule 6.01(i) (Rule 7.13), or otherwise initiated a collision that could have been avoided. A slide shall be deemed appropriate, in the case of a feet first slide, if the runner's buttocks and legs should hit the ground before contact with the catcher. In the case of a head first slide, a runner shall be deemed to have slid appropriately if his body should hit the ground before contact with the catcher. If a catcher blocks the pathway of the runner, the umpire shall not find that the runner initiated an avoidable collision in violation of this Rule 6.01(i)(1) (Rule 7.13(1)).
OK, note the bolded portion above and now regard this screenshot of Rizzo's slide ...
In this case, the runner's "buttocks and legs" are very much not on the ground before he hits the catcher. (It's also more of a "knees-first" slide rather than feet-first.) So that's another compelling argument against Rizzo's slide being licit. In summary, Rizzo veered from his path, didn't put his butt and legs on the ground before running into Hedges, and Hedges wasn't blocking the plate while not in possession of the ball (or even after he secured the ball).
At this point, it's worth noting that your personal feelings about the revised slide/plate-blocking rule that's been in place since the start of the 2014 season, while surely adorable, aren't relevant. You may be of the opinion that the rules in place are misguided and or reflective of a lack of cultural fortitude. That's cool, but the issue is whether Rizzo broke the rule, not whether the rule is a sensible one. As you were.
Four CBS Sports justices weigh in
Jonah Keri: Rizzo went out of his way to knock Hedges out. The new rule on this is clear, and Rizzo should get at least a one-game suspension for it.
Mike Axisa: Definitely an illegal slide since Rizzo had a clear path to the plate, but deviated from it to hit Hedges. That doesn't make Rizzo a dirty player! But it was an illegal slide, no doubt about it. A one-game suspension would suffice. This is the most clear cut example of a player going out of his way to hit a catcher since the new rule was put in place and MLB should enforce the rule.
Matt Snyder: The rule is definitely clear and the punishment is being called out. He was called out.
Perhaps some will want more teeth put into the rule and that's OK, but nowhere am I seeing anything that warrants more than a reminder of the rule in place.
Look, Rizzo certainly went out of his current path toward home plate. I think it's even more clear that it would've helped his team if he tried to slide outside of Hedges and hooked his arm toward home plate. But how far did he really go from his path? Would he have been called out on the bases for being out of the baseline? I don't see a chance in the world on that. Again, we're going with no precedent here and nothing firm in the rules other than that he should be called out. He was out.
Split-second bad decision by a player who says he's been told by the umpires it was OK to do this and we're going with a suspension? One that is only three games lower than Bryce Harper got for punching a pitcher? Get outta here with that. Put more in the rule than calling him out first. This wasn't egregious enough to go beyond the rule.
Dayn Perry: It was plainly an illegal slide, and I don't see any way to argue otherwise. I have no reason to think Rizzo was intentionally trying to hurt Hedges, so I'm certainly not going to declare that it was dirty. I think Rizzo reacted and did what he thought he needed to do to score. What he did, though, was against the rules whether you like those rules are not. While it's not dirty, it was egregious. I'm not on board with a suspension, and Rizzo was of course out at the plate. However, I think it's worth MLB's time to issue a statement/clarification saying that Rizzo's slide is an example of an illegal slide. As for any hard feelings, the Padres and Cubs can sort that out.
And with that, our robed judges in magistrate's wigs and concealed male rompers have ruled against Mr. Rizzo. His punishment? The unbearable weight of our righteous condemnations.