For a brief moment early on in the San Francisco Giants vs. St Louis Cardinals game last night I forgot which sport I was watching. Early in the game Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday went hard into San Francisco second baseman Marco Scutaro whilst breaking up a potential double play. That in itself was not problematic, it is very common for players to go hard into second base. It is even quite common and uncontroversial for players to go hard into an area nowhere near second base to deny the pivot man on the double play a place to put his feet. But Holliday went far beyond that.
Scutaro was behind the second base bag and Holliday actually flung himself over the bag (just barely catching the top it appeared on the replay) and hit Scutaro either on the full or very nearly so. Either way it was a crunching blow and Scutaro was down for some time. Scutaro actually stayed in the game for a while, before having to depart for an x-ray. Holliday stayed in the game as well, although he should not have.
I very seldom think that baseball could learn anything from soccer. In general soccer is a boorish affair. It is pleasing to watch from an aesthetic standpoint, but the players are far from role models and some of the fans (not all by a long stretch, but an all-too-significant minority) are appalling beyond words. The whole atmosphere can be very ugly a lot of the time.
Baseball is not perfect, but it tends to be rather more civilized than soccer. But this is an occasion where soccer has got the right idea. If Holliday had made a challenge like he did in a soccer match it would have been a straight red and rightly so. It was not only reckless, but dangerous to the opposing player. It would not have been allowed in soccer and it should not be allowed in baseball for the same reason.
As far as I know the second base umpire could not have ejected Holliday in this game; I could find nothing in the rules governing hard slides except for where they should be considered interference and the batter-runner called out. But this is something that ought to change. Right now the only bit of dangerous play that can result in ejection under the rules is the act of a pitcher throwing at the batter. This is only different from what Holliday did in that it was not quite intentional. But the subtle difference between willful disregard of an opponent’s safety and an active intent to injure is likely to be lost on the injured Scutaro. It was unnecessarily dangerous play and that should not be permitted regardless of the intent.
This should also apply to the runner attempting to bowl a catcher over at the plate. As exciting as such a play unquestionably is, it is still unnecessarily dangerous and in fact it is a bit surprising that it is allowed at all. Runners are never allowed to intentionally try to knock a ball loose, but when it is disguised as a collision it becomes acceptable. And one never sees a player try to run over a defender at second or third base even in an otherwise similar situation. The obvious excuse for the latter is that the catcher is wearing protective equipment, but ask Buster Posey if that is always effective. This is actually a more pressing issue because collisions at the plate are more common and more dangerous than those at second base.
In fact, they are at least as dangerous as a pitcher throwing at a batter. Kinetic energy is given by T=1/2mv^2 which means that a 90mph (40.2 m/s) fastball has about 117 Joules of energy. But a runner charging at full speed in from third (let’s say at four meters per second, which is close to the human average and probably below average for a major league player) will have in the neighborhood of 560 Joules of energy. In neither case is the energy completely transferred, of course, and the fastball concentrates the energy in a much smaller area than the runner. But those caveats still leave the energy levels comparable. It is clearly still very dangerous and needlessly so.
A soccer player is sent off if he recklessly endangers an opponent and a pitcher is ejected if he intentionally throws at a batter. Both are quite right and it is time runners were similarly punished.