THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
For some time, I've sang the praises of Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. The moment in the 2016 playoffs between him and umpire Angel Hernandez brought tears to my eyes because it displayed an intensely private moment of humanity that allowed the public to witness the fact that there are some people on the big stage that understand the empathy needed to be a decent human being.
Unfortunately, that changed during the 2017 season.
Back in June, when the San Diego Padres were visiting the Chicago Cubs, there was double play where Rizzo tried to score from third on a sacrifice fly, only to be thrown out at the plate. On the play, Padres catcher Austin Hedges received the throw in front of the plate and in fair territory, giving Rizzo the lane to the plate in foul territory, which satisfies the rules stating that players cannot block any base without possession of the ball (or in the act of catching the ball). Unfortunately, Rizzo violated the concurrent rule that states that a runner may not deviate his path to the plate to initiate contact with a defensive player. Rizzo changed his path and slid feet first directly into Hedges in an attempt to dislodge the ball. Rizzo was called out on the play based solely on the fact that he was tagged well before he reached the plate.
After the game, during the various media sessions, Padres manager Andy Green went on record stating he knew Rizzo violated the rule. He didn't call Rizzo a dirty player by any stretch, but he said it was a clear illegal play. Cubs manager Joe Maddon, however, went on his usual soap box to say it was a clean baseball play. Rizzo pleaded ignorance, stating his interpretation of the rule, in discussion with umpires and other baseball personnel, would allow him to do what he did.
Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre stepped in and let Rizzo know that he violated the rule and would have been called out had Hedges not held onto the ball, but also stated he would not impose any other penalty, such as a fine or suspension.
If there's a silver lining to this story, it's that Rizzo deposited so many good deeds into the proverbial bank that, if he really was ignorant and thought this was an accident or a clean play, then it made sense that Torre would look at Rizzo's resume and decide no penalty was necessary.
But the more important moral to this story is that even those who we deem to be the next superstar who can do no wrong actually, in fact, can do wrong. The number of people we really can put up on that pedestal is much smaller than we think. I fully admit I fell for it: I invested into Rizzo thinking he was going to be a good role model. And it looks like I was wrong.