On Monday, Anthony Rizzo veered out of the basepaths while running home, crashing into the Padres’ rookie catcher, Austin Hedges. Thankfully, Hedges appears to have suffered no serious injury. The cliff notes: Rizzo was not ejected, Joe Maddon made an ass of himself by advocating for additional collisions, the league informed both teams that Rizzo broke the rule but bafflingly declared there will be no punishment, and Andy Green has taken the softest approach humanly possible while showing his cards: the Padres will not retaliate and everyone knows.
In summary, everyone loses except Anthony Rizzo, who was allowed a free opportunity to take out a young, budding catcher without suffering any consequence. Yes, he was ruled out, but he was out anyway: Hedges held onto the ball. And no one can say with certainty that if Austin Hedges dropped the baseball, he would have been ruled out. We’ve all seen umpires make terrible judgement calls – including not ejecting Anthony Rizzo – and the Instant Replay system has serious loopholes. In other words, Anthony Rizzo gained a competitive advantage by running into Austin Hedges, especially once you consider that one of the Padres’ better players was removed from the game and missed the next game in the series.
Rizzo won in other ways too: nearly every commentator instantly decreed that Anthony Rizzo is a good dude and not a dirty player, like it’s impossible that a nice civilian could possibly play sports like an asshole. Play enough sports and you know this is not true. I was once punched in the face on a basketball court by an honest-to-goodness Mormon over a blatant double dribble call. Adrenaline and competitive spirit can modify behavior, violating the assumption that clean humans must also be clean players. By definition, clean players don’t make dirty plays…but never mind literal interpretations of words or rules: this is Major League Baseball, remember!
Joe Torre certainly loses. Major League Baseball showed, once again, that they have no true interest in protecting players. Besides nonsensical suspensions from previous player altercations, the league is now demonstrating that rules explicitly put in place to prevent this exact scenario were a gesture, not a sincere effort to protect players.
Take, for example, what Joe Torre himself said about punishing offenders when the league instituted the new rule back in 2014:
We’ll watch it, and if I think something’s on purpose — [senior vice president of standards and on-field operations] Joe [Garagiola Jr.] and I will look at stuff — we’ll discipline that player or fine him.
Not to mention that the Executive Director of the Players’ Union, presumably on behalf of the players, interpreted the rule that way:
We believe the new experimental rule allows for the play at the plate to retain its place as one of the most exciting plays in the game while providing an increased level of protection to both the runner and the catcher.
I’m beginning to lose track of whether baseball is FIFAing their disciplinary actions or if soccer is MLBing. Even for natives of a city where governing bodies routinely botch decisions and embarrass themselves, Major League Baseball’s decision is disappointing.
Austin Hedges certainly loses, too. He will miss (limited) time and it’s hard to tell if this will have any effect on how he protects the plate in the future. If he stands further away, that might cost the Padres a run or game every now and again. Will he take his eye off the ball to check the runner more frequently and will that cost him any positioning or effectiveness in receiving the throw? One would hope not, but we really have no idea.
But the biggest loser of all is Padres manager Andy Green. In a season designed for him to lose, he has pretty much the easiest gig around: play the young guys, don’t worry if you win or lose, and don’t do anything to piss off the fan base. I thought the latter would only include pulling a pitcher in the eighth inning of a no-hitter, but holy hell did he anger a significant portion of the fan base, proving me wrong before we even hit the All-Star Game.
Now, I get where Andy Green is coming from. I think the retaliatory culture in baseball is generally wrong, but not dogmatically so. It’s wrong to throw at a player for flipping a bat. It’s wrong to throw at a player’s head, when that can cause debilitating injuries that affect quality of life. And it’s wrong to throw at a player that had nothing to do with the transgression committed against you.
But is it really that wrong to plunk Anthony Rizzo in the hands or rib cage for deliberately running over your player? I think there’s a grey area here that’s significantly different than headhunting, throwing at a guy for celebrating an achievement, or plunking an innocent third party. Throwing at Rizzo’s hands is only a baseball risk for Rizzo, not a potentially debilitating life injury. It’s less violent than colliding with an unsuspecting catcher, so it wouldn’t even qualify as #BillCenterShariaChat, but it would at least serve as some sort of justice. A potential deterrent for future colliders, serving to marginally protect your catcher. I would feel fine – justified, even – with subjecting Rizzo to that risk.
I think the thing that pissed me off the most was Andy Green hiding behind some fake justification about how it decreases the odds the Padres will win since the HBP puts a baserunner on. EARTH TO ANDY: YOU’RE FUCKING TANKING! AND THEN YOU INTENTIONALLY WALKED TWO BATTERS THAT GAME, INCLUDING ANTHONY RIZZO!!!
The worst part of Andy Green’s decision, though, was telegraphing to the entire league that he wasn’t going to retaliate. Why not say nothing and at least instill some sort of fear in the opposition? Anthony Rizzo homered on the first pitch he saw, but I truly doubt that’s the case if Andy Green put out some ominous or ambiguous statement.
Hell, he could have gone to Joe Maddon before the game and demanded that Anthony Rizzo not play, while threatening to throw at a different player each time through the lineup. He could have been a real asshole and threatened to weight the random decision based on the number of children the players have. Of course, the threat is an empty one, but the Cubs don’t know that if you haven’t already telegraphed it to the media. There’s a non-zero chance that Joe Maddon benches Anthony Rizzo, in addition to the mental effect on the opposing hitters. (Imagine hitting ninth after that threat. You’re telling me that your focus at the plate is 100% on making contact with the pitch?)
There’s a strategic element to this that Andy Green ignored, whether he employs the crazy gambit I pulled out of my ass or he simply says “we’ll see what happens”. But to argue (and then violate) that an HBP is counterproductive and then simply forfeit the mental advantage by telegraphing your strategy is pretty inexcusable, even if the games don’t really matter.
Taken collectively, the Padres come off as the softest franchise in the league. Whether or not being soft matters is an entirely different debate. But they most certainly are soft, as they failed to respond to perhaps the most egregious form of unprovoked physical violence in the sport. Andy Green even refused to call Rizzo a dirty player.
Again, I’m not advocating for throwing at Rizzo’s head. I’m not advocating for throwing at Kris Bryant or Kyle Schwarber. I’m not advocating for the team to start throwing at players for perceived slights, like bat flips. There are reasoned approaches, however, that would disincentivize future transgressions. Andy Green delivered “peace for our time“.
Most of the time, I don’t think being soft matters. It’s healthy to fold to a bluff in poker every so often. But very visibly being the softest probably does, in my opinion, matter. So much so that I’m willing to bet that this won’t be the last time Andy Green’s team gets pushed around by another team (and the league). And I think I know whose lunch money I can wager.