Saint Louis Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny recently spoke out to the media decrying the continuation of home plate collisions. While I don’t disagree with his reasoning, ultimately the impact upon the game would be too great.
Like football players in the NFL, baseball players are getting bigger and faster; and in a game that is sometimes considered too boring, looking to inject some life into their team and the game itself.
The NFL has already cracked down heavily on certain types of hits and while baseball is a completely different game, the home plate collision can be more dangerous than any hit an NFL player can take. Catchers equipment is much more sophisticated these days but by no means is sufficient protection for that type of impact. But that’s a risk a player who wants to make a career out of catching has to take.
There are rare occasions when it’s clear the runner is going to be out and–perhaps out of frustration–they try to plow into the catcher. It’s a clear cheap shot but there is nothing in the rules that says he can’t do it. Similarly, if it looks as though a runner is going to score easily but the catcher still wants to hover over home plate, what is the runner supposed to do? Stop and ask him nicely to move? He reserves the right to do what he can to touch home plate.
Taking that a step further, could we be heading down a path where umpires will have to decide if a collision was malicious or not? Forget the fact that they have to concentrate on both the runner and the catcher as the ball comes home and the tag is attempted. At that point, what will be more important? Is the runner out or was the hit ‘unsportsmanlike’?
Could we even get to the point where an area around home plate is designated the as the catcher zone where only inside that area collisions are allowed?
I’m all for player safety and don’t want to see players like Yadier Molina, Buster Posey, or Joe Mauer have their careers ruined over a player trying to score a run in a meaningless late August game. However, the situation will become much too complicated if we start establishing rules about running into the catcher. Or removing that option completely from the game–a notion that seems almost impossible to realize.
Ultimately, a catcher chooses to play that position. He knows the risks involved taking on that role as well as what is expected out of him by his teammates. Don’t like home plate collisions? Don’t become a catcher.