When MLB adopted, implemented and began to enforce their policy on steroids and performance enhancing drugs — or more formally, the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program — in 2006, though MLB didn’t publicly admit it, the focus was primarily on protecting the game’s integrity and not necessarily on player health. The thought was that players using PEDs would effectively taint the integrity of all performance statistics as they would have an unfair edge over non-PED users. Now a new rule for the 2014 season banning egregious physical contact between the base-runner and the catcher is being implemented on the primary basis of player safety, though it’s implementation will affect statistics in a comparable manner.
This rule, while technically experimental, effectively makes the catcher baseball’s version of the quarterback, still allowing minor contact but only in certain circumstances. The overall goal of this rule change is to protect the catcher and base-runner from devastating injuries sustained during close plays at home plate where previously a base-runner was previously allowed to barrel over a catcher in an effort to jar the ball loose.
This rule can impact the game in a number of ways. First, the catcher can now be more confident and tactical in receiving a throw from any direction without the threat of being plowed both without the ball and while not blocking the plate. The catcher will be free to concentrate on only receiving the throw and applying a tag instead of the combination of receiving the throw, positioning his body between the runner and the plate, securing the ball and protecting his body from collision. This will reduce the number of injuries, sure, but it will remove some of the grittiness from the game. No longer will the determination and toughness of a runner and a catcher factor into plays at the plate. As an example, you won’t see a Pete Rose-type so determined to score a run that he destroys Ray Fosse to win a game.
Secondly and as previously mentioned, this experimental rule has the potential to alter statistics into the future if adopted for the long term, something that proponents of MLB’s PED rule were quite vocal about in their argument to adopt the ban — to preserve the integrity of the game/statistics. Catchers can feasibly have longer careers as a result with reduced stints on the disabled list and even adding another season or two to their useful baseball lives. That extra season, or even the extra few games, could be the difference in the record books between a catcher playing under this new rule and all catchers who played before them.
In the aforementioned example with Rose, I will submit to you that he played that part of the game with a sort of reckless abandon, but I don’t care. These guys are professionals, playing the game for my entertainment, which I admittedly care a great deal more about than I do their safety. The possibility that a catcher can be leveled by an opposing runner was a known fact when they signed their respective contracts, so I do not feel badly for them if they become injured. Don’t play the game if you don’t want to deal with that risk. I harbor these feelings toward the other major sports — football and hockey — as well. Gladiator style.