We’ve all seen the replays. They’re all over ESPN’s Baseball Tonight and the other sports highlight shows. Every time there’s a play at the plate in MLB, we find ourselves caught under an avalanche of instant replays and unique camera angles that give us the best footage of the collision. And we watch it. We watch it because we like it. It’s like big hits in the NFL and crashes in Nascar. We can’t get enough of it.
But this is 2013. We live in a world full of phony do-gooders, and we’re forced to conform to a society of politically correct headline seekers. So I guess it was only a matter of time before someone came to the defense of the catchers. Give me a break.
The trend among baseball writers right now is to opine as to whether or not home plate collisions should be banned from the game. I don’t want to join this silly discussion. I want to put an end to it. In a nation that has focused a lot of energy on sports-related concussions and head injuries, it seems only fitting that baseball join the conversation. But really, people, there’s just no need.
Back in 1970, Pete Rose took out Ray Fosse in the now infamous collision at home. Fosse suffered a separated shoulder after getting bowled over, and some say he was never the same after that game. Seventeen years later, Bo Jackson (a running back with the Los Angeles Raiders during the off-season) crushed Rick Dempsey in a play at the plate. Dempsey broke his thumb during the play, having it snapped all the way back against his wrist. Fast-forward another 24 years, and we have Scott Cousins running into Buster Posey in the highly publicized collision that resulted in Posey breaking his leg. The list goes on and on. Actually, wait a minute… no it doesn’t.
That’s pretty much it. Those three collisions at home plate tell the entire story. Sure, there have been others. They happen every year with varying degrees of regularity, but they’re rarely talked about outside of the immediate response after we’ve been repeatedly doused with images from the evening highlights. Why? Because it really isn’t worthy of deep conversation. Injuries of this type are very uncommon. And you know what? We wouldn’t even be having this discussion if the latest incident happened to San Francisco Giants backup catcher Eli Whiteside rather than franchise player Posey. It wouldn’t be an issue.
Plays at the plate are part of the game—plain and simple. Sometimes the plays are close, and sometimes there’s an impact between the players. But baseball is not a “contact sport”. It’s just not.
If you look at the replays of any of these types of collisions, you’ll find that, more often than not, the act of the catcher blocking the plate is the catalyst. Watch the replay of the Rose-Fosse play. It’s apparent that Rose wanted to slide, but there was just no way to access home plate if he had. The Dempsey injury was a fluke caused by a bad throw. And the Posey play? Well, sometimes freak things happen. You have to deal with it. Posey did—and he came back and won the N.L. MVP in 2012.
New York Mets GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins have had discussions with their top prospect Travis d’Arnaud, a catcher. The 24-year-old has had knee problems in the past, so the Mets have asked that d’Arnaud not block the plate, but rather, perform a catch and sweep-tag in attempting to tag out runners at home.
Bingo! We have a winner.
That’s the only real answer. If you don’t want to get hit, don’t block the plate. It’s that simple. There’s no need for all this discussion. There’s no need for the tree-huggers to get involved. There’s no need for ridiculous people to propose ridiculous rule changes.
St. Louis Cardinals manager and former catcher Mike Matheny has suggested that all home plate collisions be immediately banned from the game. Wow. Maybe there’s an injury that we all missed. Maybe there’s a collision that we forgot to document. Maybe someone should check Matheny for one of these concussions that we’ve been hearing so much about because it’s obvious he isn’t thinking straight. Catchers are wearing armor, and they use it to their advantage in blocking the plate. Yet Matheny (and others) somehow believe that the onus should be on the runner to find another way to tag home.
I, for one, have heard enough. It’s time for everyone to take a deep breath and regain some form of sanity in all this. This shouldn’t even be a topic of conversation. Home plate collisions have been part of the game of baseball for 150 years. There’s no tangible reason to get rid of them. Please… let’s just leave these maddening debates in the NFL where they belong.
(JM Catellier is the author of the book Fixing Baseball, a guide to restructuring the Hall of Fame. Follow him on Twitter: @FixingBaseball and Facebook, and check out his site: www.fixingbaseball.com)