San Diego Padres: From this angle Rizzo-Hedges collision a cheap shot

dcalkins
Jun 19, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; San Diego Padres catcher Austin Hedges tumbles after tagging out Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo at home plate in the sixth inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 19, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; San Diego Padres catcher Austin Hedges tumbles after tagging out Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo at home plate in the sixth inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports /
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Anthony Rizzo’s collision with Austin Hedges on Monday night was absolutely inappropriate, and the San Diego Padres are right to be infuriated.

Like beauty in the eye of the beholder, judgments on collisions at home plate (or to break up a double play) are clouded by the vantage point of the observer. This longtime Padres’ fan finds absolutely no gray area in Anthony Rizzo’s takeout slide of catcher Austin Hedges in the first game of the series against the Cubs in Chicago.

Neither does San Diego manager Andy Green, who vociferously stood up for his young catcher. “I think you look at that play and it’s a fairly egregious violation of the rule,” Green said. “The rule exists to protect the catcher. The safety of the catcher is more in jeopardy now when you have the rule to protect you because you’re not expecting to get hit when you give a guy a plate like that.”

Former Padres’ farmhand, Anthony Rizzo holds a view diametrically opposed to Green’s. He said after the game, “I’ve talked to a lot of umpires about this rule. It’s my understanding if they have the ball, it’s game on.” Any umpire who actually relayed that message to Rizzo must not have read Rule 7.13, which MLB changed in December of 2013 and has hereafter been called the “Buster Posey rule.”

Although it took more than two years to finalize the rule change, the genesis was an ugly collision between San Francisco Giants’ franchise catcher and Scott Cousins of the Florida Marlins. The play shattered Posey’s left leg and ended his season. The rule reads in part, “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)”.

Cousins, by the way, apologized for the play, saying that he never intended to hurt anyone. He also received well-publicized death threats.

Rizzo’s slide came on a play similar to that involving Cousins and Posey, a throw from the outfield with a runner bearing down on home plate. The replay shows that Hedges, arguably the Padres’ franchise catcher, clearly gave Rizzo a lane to the plate and that Rizzo deviated from that path and slammed into Hedges who recorded the out.

Surprisingly Chicago Tribune reporter Steve Rosenbloom takes the Padres’ side of the argument in his “Rosenblog”, “If Major League Baseball is serious about enforcing its rule meant to protect catchers in collisions at the plate, then Anthony Rizzo would be suspended today. Instead, Rizzo took several strides out of his route to end up inside the baseline and slam into Hedges. That’s instinct. That’s what any base runner would do naturally. That’s also against the rule intended to protect catchers in such cases.”

Not surprisingly, Joe Maddon, the Cubs manager protected his player but went a bit too far by saying that he “absolutely loved” the play. He then added, “If the catcher is in the way, you hit him.”

But Andy Green didn’t back down and called the Rizzo play a “cheap shot,” adding “he clearly deviated from his path to hit our catcher and took our catcher out. The rule exists to protect him. It’s a disheartening play.”

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Baseball’s reaction to the play has been especially disheartening, as it appears Rizzo will not be disciplined, even though the league has clearly stated that he violated the rule. One has to ask, what is the point of having a rule that baseball chooses not to enforce?

Hedges, who has a bruised thigh, will not be in the lineup for Tuesday’s game, and there’s no word on his return to catching duties. That leaves the Padres with Rule-5 catcher Luis Torrens and few other options. Hector Sanchez, who has battled foot, quad and back injuries, has begun a Triple-A rehab start but is still on the 10-day DL.

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From this vantage point, one can only wonder if the situation had been reversed, if the Chicago catcher Wilson Contreras had been taken out be the Padres’ first baseman Wil Myers would the scenario have played out the same way? Or would the lowly Padres be penalized for daring to harm a player on the roster of the reigning World Champion and media darling Cubs?

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