LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — One of the game’s biggest stars — Buster Posey — suffered a nearly career-ending knee injury as a result of a collision with then-Marlins outfielder Scott Cousins in May of 2011, therefore we must protect catchers?
Major League Baseball finally has arrived at banning home plate collisions, starting in 2015 — pending the approval from the players and umpires unions and a review of what plays will be considered banned and subject to discipline.
Baseball is seeking to ban collisions that have happened since Abner Doubleday invented baseball. What are we doing here?
This isn’t football, in which every play is a collision. You get a severe home plate collision once in a while, and although MLB estimates that 50 percent of its concussions come from collisions at the plate, they also are the result of batters being hit with pitches, catchers taking foul balls off the mask, and other collisions.
How far are we going to take this?
David Ross and Alex Avila suffered concussions as the result of foul balls off their masks during the 2013 season. Are we banning foul balls soon?
The type of collision Ross and Avila had in the American League Championship Series would be banned; Ross barreled in and tried to dislodge the ball from Avila’s mitt. A player was trying to score and the other player was trying to prevent it.
An outfielder throwing to the plate, a runner barreling around third, and ball and runner coming to the plate at the same time is one of the most exciting plays in baseball. Does the catcher hold on to the ball after the collision, or does he drop it, with the runner safe?
This is sport. This is athleticism.
And now we’re taking it away?
I’m with Indians manager Terry Francona on this one.
“I think it’s well-intended,” Francona said. “I might be a little bit in the minority. I think there is liable to be more injuries with baserunners than maybe we realize. I guess I feel like if you don’t want your catcher not to block the plate, just tell him not to block the plate. You don’t have to enforce rules, just tell him not to block the plate.”
Detroit manager Brad Ausmus, who caught 1,938 games over 18 seasons, is torn as well.
“I do think it should change,” he said. “With all the new information on concussions, it’s probably the prudent thing to do. However, I am a little bit old school in the sense that I don’t want to turn home plate into just another tag play. This is a run. This is the difference between possibly making the playoffs and not making the playoffs. It should matter a little bit more.
“In my mind I’d love to see something that if there’s a collision, any hit above the shoulders, maybe the runner is out. I don’t know how it’s going to pan out. I know that would be very difficult to umpire, intent on something like that. But I do think something is going to happen.”
Ausmus believes the Posey-Cousins collision opened the door for this dialogue.
“But again, for me, those things are going to happen,” he said. “The occasional knee injuries, those things are going to happen. In my mind let’s talk about protecting the head, keep the concussions to a minimum or to zero, if possible.”
Is a rule change necessary? Or is simply enforcing the obstruction rule in place good enough?
Rule 7.06(b): “The catcher, without the ball in his possession, has no right to block the pathway of the runner attempting to score. The base line belongs to the runner and the catcher should be there only when he is fielding a ball or when he already has the ball in his hand.”
Simple enough. The catcher has to have the ball in his possession before he can block the plate. Leave it alone. Enforce it. Or as Francona suggests, just tell your catchers they are not to block the plate and they are to use the swipe tag, the way Pudge Rodriguez did through his career.
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, who headed the committee to look into home plate collisions, said the recommended ban is because of a few factors.
“One is just the general occurrence of injuries from these incidents at home plate that affects players, both runners and catchers — and also the general concern about concussions that exists not only in baseball but throughout professional sports and amateur sports today,” he said. “It’s an emerging issue and one that we in baseball have to address as well as other sports. So that’s part of the impetus for this rule change as well.
“The exact language and how exactly the rule will be enforced is subject to final determination. We’re going to do a fairly extensive review of the types of plays that occur at home plate to determine which we’re going to find acceptable and which are going to be prohibited.”
Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who was a rough-and-tumble backstop for the Dodgers, is on board with the change.
“Well, I think everyone is in agreement that the mindless collisions at home plate where a catcher is being targeted by a runner, that needs to be addressed,” he said. “I think that it’s easy to say a runner has to slide. But on the other side of the coin, it’s going to be difficult to contain a runner and telling him what he has to do and let the catcher have carte blanche to be able to block the plate aggressively.
“I think it’s going to be possible, you just have to figure out how to do it. I know as a catcher, if I knew that the runner couldn’t run me over, I’d definitely block the plate. So there is probably a solution there. That is something that they’ve got to work on. Will it be perfect? I don’t know. Probably not.”
Marlins manager Mike Redmond, another former catcher, said, “Well, if I was catching and I knew that the guy wasn’t going to run me over, then I could block the plate and not worry. You know, as a catcher, you always have that aspect of, ‘Hey, this guy could run me over, so I have to be ready,’ and if that is eliminated, you can lay down in front of the plate, right?”
It sounds as if runners and catchers will have to change what their instincts tell them they should do and what they’ve been taught do for many, many moons.
Francona believes this may cause a whole other set of problems — possible injuries for the baserunner.
He’s right. Some things are better left alone.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.