Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon is renowned as one of the best in the sport. He is highly regarded for his hilarious quotes about his own players, player safety and just seems to be genuinely loved all around.
Perhaps after the latest questionable slide by Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo into the leg of Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Elias Diaz, it’s time to think about Maddon’s reputation in another way.
The slide drew an array of opinions across baseball with the greatest division between managers. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle told reporters the slide by Rizzo put catchers at risk in their most vulnerable moment, while Maddon told the media Rizzo made “the perfect play”.
Both managers are obviously biased towards their own player and rightfully speak up to defend them. However, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen one of Maddon’s players commit a questionable slide.
On May 13, 2017, Cubs infielder Ian Happ slid towards the legs of St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Aledyms Diaz in an attempt to try and prevent a throw by Diaz and eliminate the chance for a double play.
— Alex Smolokoff (@ASmolokoff) May 13, 2017
Umpires ruled Happ’s slide violated MLB’s slide rule and an automatic inning-ending double play was awarded to the Cardinals. Chicago would go on to lose the game 5-3 and Maddon expressed his frustration over the league’s rule after the game.
“Don’t give me hyperbole and office-created rules because I’m not into those things, as you guys know about reaching the bag,” Maddon said, via The Chicago Tribune. “When you’re sliding on dirt and have momentum, you keep going. And there was no malicious intent whatsoever, so I don’t think that breaks the intent of injury.”
Just a month later, the Cubs found themselves involved in a controversy over a slide once again. On June 19 in a game against the San Diego Padres, Rizzo collided at full speed with Padres catcher Austin Hedges.
After the game, Maddon once again defended his player when asked about the play and if it crossed the line given there was room for Rizzo to slide.
“I loved it,” Maddon said, via CBS Chicago. “Absolutely loved it. That’s part of the game. If the catcher’s in the way, you hit him. Very simple.”
It doesn’t matter if in each of these plays there is a route for the Cubs player to slide without making direct contact with the opponent and putting them at greater risk for an injury.
Perhaps Maddon and other baseball fans remain infatuated with how baseball used to be played. They liked the old days when base runners could use their bodies as a weapon to physically pummel someone — because that apparently makes baseball more fun for them.
As much as we may all want to love Maddon as an entertaining speaker who can help lead his team to a World Series title and deliver amazing quotes that make everyone laugh, we need to also think of him more critically.
He may like the way the game used to be, but the sport needed change. MLB officials realized they needed to protect their investments and provide players with some protection when they are on the field.
Old-time baseball folks will blame San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey for this and direct the league’s change in policy to the collision that knocked Posey out for most of the 2011 season.
That belief comes in spite of the fact Joe Torre, MLB’s Vice President for on-field operations at the time, said the collision would not persuade him to make changes to protect catchers.
“Well, listen, I knew it was more emotional than anything else,” Torre said, via The Mercury News. “None of us like to see that. But I really haven’t heard anything that would encourage me to change anything or recommend a change. Being a catcher for a lot of years, I knew what the consequences were.”
A change did eventually come, but it happened because the league saw catchers repeatedly get crushed at the plate and at times be seriously injured. So the league implemented a new rule on home-plate collisions in 2014.
Then after Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley slid into the legs and fractured the fibula of New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada in Game 2 of the National League Division Series, the league announced new slide rules at second base to limit how much a base runner could slide
Now neither of these injuries happened to one of Maddon’s players, so that might make it easier for him to still want the league to play by the rules from the old days. These new rules are also the same rules that help protect Willson Contreras and Javier Baez, two players who the Cubs rely on heavily.
It’s time for Maddon to adapt to how baseball is played now. Things are changing and baseball is adapting to the times by finding ways to protect players.
It doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the game. Instead, it allows us more chances to keep watching the players we enjoy rather than seeing them miss half the season with a broken leg.