Will MLB action on home-plate collisions change game’s culture?

December 12, 2013

The May 2011, home-plate collision between Scott Cousins and San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey was horrific — and it may change baseball.  Marcio Jose Sanchez /  AP)

The May 2011 home-plate collision between Scott Cousins of the Miami Marlins and San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey left Posey crumpled in a heap and ended his season with a gruesomely broken leg.

In the immediate aftermath of the loss of his catcher, Giants Manager Bruce Bochy, himself a former catcher, called for essentially banning collisions at the plate. And now, as baseball’s winter musings continue and rules changes are considered, the idea is gaining steam, thanks partly to Bochy and St. Louis Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny, who also happens to be a former catcher. On Wednesday, the game’s Playing Rules Committee voted overwhelmingly to outlaw the collisions.

“I’m proud of the league for taking a step forward,” Matheny said Tuesday. “I don’t know how it’s all going to play out, but people who know me know my stance on this. I just believe it’s something that we can’t turn a blind eye to, what’s going on in these other sports.”

It isn’t exactly clear how to go about it, and not everyone favors the idea. Pete Rose, practitioner of the most-well known collision in the game’s history, hates it.

“What are they going to do next, you can’t break up a double play?” Rose, who bowled over Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game, told the Associated Press. “You’re not allowed to pitch inside. The hitters wear more armor than the Humvees in Afghanistan. Now you’re not allowed to be safe at home plate? What’s the game coming to? Evidently the guys making all these rules never played the game of baseball.”

The Rose-Fosse collision is in the past, though. This is, as Matheny points out, a new era. There’s increased awareness about the dangers of concussions and an increased understanding of just how precious a great catcher is. Just how to take the danger out of the play at the plate is another matter. At least initially, Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson and the rules committee are looking at this from the perspective of protecting runners. A base runner would not be allowed to knock over the catcher in order to dislodge the ball; he would be required to slide feet first. And, possibly, catchers would be barred from blocking the plate. However the rule is drafted, the proposal will require the approval of the Major League Baseball Players Association and the umpires’ union.

“The rule will govern the conduct of both catchers and runners, and so it will be a little bit complicated, but we are going to work our way through it,” Alderson told reporters Wednesday. “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.”

As the NFL has found as it has worked to change how players tackle in order to minimize concussions, the change is a product of the times. A cultural shift isn’t always easy.

“It’s an emerging issue, and one that we in baseball have to address,” Alderson said. “Ultimately, what we want to do is change the culture of acceptance that these plays are ordinary and routine and an accepted part of the game. The risks and costs associated in terms of health and injury no longer warrant the status quo.”

After spending most of her career in traditional print sports journalism, Cindy began blogging and tweeting, first as NFL/Redskins editor, and, since August 2010, at The Early Lead. She also is the social media editor for Sports.
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Cindy Boren · December 12, 2013