Thursday, May 26, 2011

Excuse Me, I Want to Score

Pete Rose slams into catcher Ray Fosse
in the 1970 All-Star Game.
Buster Posey broke his ankle protecting home plate last night. He's not the first catcher to be injured blocking a runner from the dish. But to hear his agent tell it, he should be the last.

Jeff Berry, the agent for the San Francisco Giants' catcher, likened collisions at the plate to helmet-to-helmet hits in the NFL. He called for an end to the practice of runners slamming into catchers. The debate has started. Jim Rice, the Boston Red Sox star of the 1970s and '80s, has already weighed in, saying such plays are a part of the game.

I don't know when base runners first decided slamming into the catcher was a good idea. The first time I remember it being controversial was Pete Rose's destruction of Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game. Mostly I remember the controversy being about whether such a rough play had a place in a game that doesn't count in the standings.

Plays at the plate are among the most exciting. The crowd is roaring, the catcher is waiting for the ball and the runner is barreling toward him. The moment when ball and runner arrive at the plate is thrilling. The results, like last night, can be devastating for the catcher. Sometimes, of course, the runner gets the worst of it. Nyjer Morgan, of the Milwaukee Brewers, was injured earlier this season scoring a key run. Last year, Morgan ignited a brawl on a similar play.

In the more than 40 years I have been watching big league ball, collisions at the plate have been part of the game. With emotions raw, sometimes they have sparked fights. It's a shame when someone gets injured. But now a star has been injured.

Will baseball change its rules? I wouldn't think so. But when a star gets injured you never know. Certainly the vote from the Bay Area would be for a change.

If a change is decided on, baseball need look nor further than the NCAA, which outlaws a runner from lowering his shoulder into a catcher who is blocking the plate while in possession of the ball. The colleges still allow collisions, but ban the most violent kind. The replay of the Posey play shows him blocking the plate before the ball arrives. So maybe no rules would have helped him.

Maybe it's worth considering.


  1. As a baseball fan from San Francisco I can say that I would never want a rule change. It's a huge loss for all of baseball when a player like Posey goes down but it was a clean play. Cousins had the right to hit Posey for being in the base path without possession of the ball.

    It would have been a clean hit even under NCAA rules and most collisions at the plate are because the catcher willingly blocks the plate without the ball.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I tend to agree that the rules should stand as they are. But it's certainly an interesting debate.

  3. I just think Bud Selig is going to ruin baseball. Last year he allowed instant replay, this year he'll ban all contact, next year there will be another round of playoffs, year after that he'll make a salary minimum instead of a salary cap, then with a final blow he will raise ticket prices by 100% and no one will ever go to a game again.

    Unless maybe he adds 3 more DH spots and stops steroid testing...

  4. I don't like all of Selig's moves, but I will disagree on replay. I'd rather see calls corrected than see games decided by mistakes.

  5. I think the issue is that Posey wasn't really blocking the plate. He was standing on the inside of the baseline, leaving an outside lane for the runner. If the catcher is completely blocking access to the plate, that's his choice and he should eat the hit. Personally I favor the college rules, where the catcher has to leave a lane for the runner and the runner has to take it. If there's a screwup by the catcher and he's blocking the whole plate, then kabam.

    I just don't see what collisions add to baseball. They're "exciting." Making a runner have a fistfight with the first baseman instead of throwing the ball over to first would be exciting, too. It's "tradition" and "it's always been that way." Well, "tradition" also used to ban black players from the major leagues, allowed spitballs, let people get a runner out by throwing the ball AT him....the list goes on. Just because it's "always been like that" doesn't mean it has to. The game evolves. Baseball needs to take a look at what collisions actually add to the game, and decide if that's worth the risk of injury.

    The major contact sports (football, hockey) take steps to minimize the risk of injury during player collisions. Why is it that baseball, which is far less of a contact sport and in which the players aren't wearing the same kind of protective gear, doesn't take any such steps?

  6. Thanks for the comments, Matt. I have seen some proposals from Tim McCarver that make sense. They are along the lines of your point about Posey having not really blocked the plate. I think it's worth considering.

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