Maybe you’re familiar with a concept we introduced earlier this season: The Cubs Villainy Meter. It’s meant to contextualize this new world where the Cubs are not lovable (or, at the least, pitiable) losers, and are instead defending World Champions. It’s meant to be an ongoing look so we know just how far away from their roots the Cubs have strayed, and if they can reach the vile heights that former losers-turned-heels like the Red Sox and Giants have.
Thanks to the last week of events, it’s about time we adjust their Villainy Score.
Anthony Rizzo slid into Padres catcher Austin Hedges on Monday night. He didn’t have to slide into Hedges, but he chose to do so: For Rizzo and the Cubs, it was merely an out. For Hedges, it was an injury, as he limped away from the play and is not expected to be in the Padres’ lineup on Tuesday.
If you ask Rizzo, it was open season on Hedges — he thinks colliding with the catcher is what you’re supposed to do in that situation, as he shared in his response to the Padres’ criticism of the play:
“I don’t by no means think that’s a dirty play at all,” Rizzo said. “I went pretty much straight in, he caught the ball and he went towards the plate.
Rizzo has spoken with umpires on multiple occasions about the interpretation of the rule for when a catcher is blocking the plate, saying it’s his understanding that, “If they have the ball, it’s game on.”
Whatever the umpires told him, it certainly was not that, as Rule 7.13:
(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). 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 (even if the player covering home plate loses 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.
Here’s the thing, Rizzo: “pretty much straight in” is 1) not what happened and 2) not the same thing as straight in. It’s clear, watching that video, that Rizzo went to his left to collide with Hedges, when he had a perfectly clear route to the plate to his right that wouldn’t have involved crashing into the backstop. In fact, if Rizzo had done that instead of his “game on” approach, he might have scored a run there.
Wherever did Rizzo get this idea that this is something you should be doing? Oh, I don’t know, maybe from his manager:
Cubs manager Joe Maddon has encouraged players to remain aggressive if they see the catcher in the lane to the plate.
“I loved it,” Maddon said. “Absolutely loved it. That’s part of the game. If the catcher’s in the way, you hit him. Very simple.”
The catcher wasn’t in the way, but who cares about a minor detail like that? It’s not like Maddon’s and Rizzo’s arguments hinge on that or anything. This also isn’t new territory for Maddon, who thinks slamming into the catcher to score a run is a thing to practice in spring training:
Girardi was much less diplomatic, noting that another player on the Rays, outfielder Carl Crawford, was involved in a home plate collision earlier in the week against the Houston Astros.
“Maybe if it happens too much, you should mention it,” Girardi said. “I don’t understand it. During the season, I’m all for it. It happens in the season.” But, he added, “In spring training, I don’t believe in it.”
Rays Manager Joe Maddon declined to comment.
Girardi isn’t exactly a beacon of justice here, given he’s fine with these collisions happening in the regular season, but spring training? Come on, Maddon. Granted, this is from 2008, so things have changed since. Like, as a random example, the rules about crashing into catchers and how baserunners aren’t supposed to be doing it.
That’s outright ignoring the rules, and by doing so the Cubs lost out on a run and the Padres lost their catcher to injury. Shouldn’t Maddon be upset about that first part, even if he has to pretend the second part isn’t an actual issue?
[Update 2:59 p.m:] These aren’t just the ramblings of someone with a series to follow-up on. MLB has reportedly determined Rizzo did in fact fail to follow rule 7.13. This changes nothing, as Rizzo was called out at the plate, other than the fact that he was wrong and now should have to apologize by saying “It turns out that the game was not on.”
In lighter news we can be mad at the Cubs about, they’re selling pieces of ivy from the 2016 version of Wrigley Field for $200. I guess we should just be happy that the Cubs didn’t make all of them say “That’s Cub.”
So, where does this leave the Cubs on the Villainy Meter right now?
Previously, Chicago was behind the Mets on our scale, and ahead of the group of 23 other non-villainous teams that the Padres, Pirates, and Brewers were meant to represent on this wheel. The whole explanation for all that can be found here.
All the above isn’t quite enough to move them past the Mets, given the Mets are still owned by the Wilpons and they’re still causing us to all write about Tim Tebow. (Would you people please lose interest in him? Man.) On the other hand, the Mets are basically the most pathetic team in baseball right now. Everyone is hurt and the manager was, at one point, barred from discussing any injuries, and instead had to say things like a start was being skipped because of the weather.
Still, the Mets caused their own problems for the most part, so how bad should we really feel for them? Then again, the Cubs and Rizzo just preyed on the poor Padres, who are not only the least villainous, but also potentially not even an actual team that exists. On the other other hand, it’s not like the Cubs are the only team that ignores rules about slides and collisions.
It’s a tough situation, this villainy thing.
So, here’s your tiebreaker: Let’s not forget the early season issue where John Lackey and Chris Bosio both heavily implied Eric Thames was using performance-enhancing drugs because he hit dingers off Chicago pitching. That’s even more embarrassing today when you see how the Cubs’ rotation is doing even when it’s not facing Eric Thames.