NLCS: Ron Darling is wrong about the Willson Contreras play

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 14: Joe Maddon /

Announcer Ron Darling was flat-out wrong when he ranted about the play by Cubs catcher Willson Contreras being overturned in the NLCS.

The controversial play happened in the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 1 of the NLCS between the Cubs and Dodgers. Justin Turner singled to left and Charlie Culberson scored from second to give the Dodgers a 5-2 lead. On the play, Cubs catcher Willson Contreras caught the throw while using his left leg to block Culberson from touching home plate. Culberson failed to tag the plate as he slid past and Contreras ran over and tagged Culberson for what was initially called an out.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts protested the call. The replay showed that Contreras did not give the runner, Culberson, a path to the plate. By rule, the catcher must give the runner a clear path to the plate. Rule 7.13 (2) reads like this:

"“Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the Umpire, the catcher without possession of the ball blocks the pathway of the runner, the Umpire shall call or signal the runner safe.”"

That’s the second part of the rule. The first part of rule 7.13 prevents the runner from initiating contact with the catcher, like the famous play in the 1970 All-Star Game in which Pete Rose barreled over Ray Fosse to score the winning run in the 12th inning. That was a legendary play that has been burned into the minds of a generation of fans, including Ron Darling.

Times have changed. A couple years after catcher Buster Posey was injured on a play at the plate in 2011, MLB decided it was more important to prevent injuries on collisions and take-out slides than to allow baseball to occasionally become a contact sport, a la the Pete RoseRay Fosse play. Some people like the change; some hate it.

Apparently, Ron Darling falls into the second camp. This is what he said as the play was being reviewed,

"“So an amazing, athletic play by Willson Contreras and Schwarber has a chance to be taken away because of the silliest of rules.”"

Darling acknowledged that Contreras blocked the plate. He violated the rule. Darling also pointed out that, had Contreras not blocked the path to the plate, Cluberson would have been safe.

Darling made it clear how much he dislikes this rule when he said,

"“I hate it. Because it’s a great play. All Culberson had to do is run from second to home. Schwarber had to field it. He had to throw a perfect throw and Contreras had to make the greatest of catching, athletic play.”More from Call to the PenPhiladelphia Phillies, ready for a stretch run, bomb St. Louis CardinalsPhiladelphia Phillies: The 4 players on the franchise’s Mount RushmoreBoston Red Sox fans should be upset over Mookie Betts’ commentAnalyzing the Boston Red Sox trade for Dave Henderson and Spike Owen2023 MLB postseason likely to have a strange look without Yankees, Red Sox, Cardinals"

The play was overturned and Culberson was ruled safe. Cubs manager Joe Maddon came out and argued and was ejected. Darling continued to rant,

"“It’s a bad rule. It’s always been a bad rule. And it rears its ugly head in the first game of a championship series.”"

The other announcer pointed out that the call was correct “by the letter of the law.” Darling responded, “You’re right, Brian, but the one word you left out, it’s by the letter of a BAD law, that’s what it is. It is the letter of the law, the letter of a BAD law.” Many people on Twitter agreed. Cubs catcher Willson Contreras very much agreed.

Ron Darling is dead wrong here. It’s not a bad rule. The rule was put in place to prevent injury. Darling isn’t considering the alternative. He seems to think that if there was no Rule 7.13, then the play would have happened exactly as it happened and the runner would have been out. This is incorrect.

If the rule did not exist, it would likely be a totally different play. Consider the possibilities. If Contreras tries the same maneuver with his leg, Culberson could take out his knee with an aggressive slide, possibly injuring him. If Contreras goes “old school” and camps out in front of home plate while waiting for the throw, Culberson could try to bowl him over like Pete Rose did Ray Fosse.

Cubs fans who are angry about the call being overturned should consider how they’d feel if Contreras had been injured on the play and had to miss the rest of the postseason and perhaps part of next season. Without rule 7.13, there’s an increased chance Contreras or Culberson, or both, are injured on a close play at the plate.

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These are the plays MLB no longer wants to see. The traditional fan may lament the loss of the take-out slide or collisions at the plate, but MLB is protecting the players from injury. The long-term health of the players is more important than one run. In a world in which retired NFL players hobble around on bad knees and ankles or succumb to dementia because of repeated concussions, major league baseball should be commended for having a rule designed to prevent injuries on plays at the plate.