Major League Baseball has been implementing some major changes in the last few seasons. First came instant replay on home runs, followed by managerial challenges. Now, it looks like there will be yet another perturbation to the established rules of Major League Baseball — a policy that discourages most collisions at home plate.
What in the world took so long?
I’ve always hated the concept of the home-plate collision, an idea that has seemed out of place to me alongside the other established elements of the game of baseball. In a game based on pinpoint timing and accuracy of movement, the show of extraneous force involved in the collision detracts from the game by fostering injuries and bad blood between both players involved.
The concept is easy enough to understand—sometimes, a player attempting to score will ram his body into the catcher to either prevent the catcher from cleanly receiving the throw to the plate before it arrives or to attempt to jar the ball loose in the case that the catcher is already in possession of it. But baseball isn’t a contact sport, and never really has been. In a game where nobody wears any serious body protection, it honestly puzzles me that players have been allowed to hit each other in such fashion for as long as they have.
One of the main issues that I have with it is that it is remarkably one-sided in favor of the offense. Keep in mind that the baserunner is sprinting towards the plate at full speed and has time to both physically and mentally brace for impact at a favorable angle before contact is made. At best, the catcher doesn’t end up with the ball and a run is scored, but the worst-case scenario is an out with some extra oomph for the runner.
However, for the catcher, the same action can be incredibly dangerous. For one, the primary focus of the catcher when a play is being made at the plate is to catch the throw coming in, only becoming wary of the baserunner only after he has caught the ball. Because of this, he is neither physically nor mentally prepared to meet the imminent impact. In most cases, he’ll just get the wind knocked out of him and lie on the dirt for a while before getting up to resume play. However, in certain extreme cases, concussions and serious physical injuries can present grave dangers for these catchers — just ask any Giants fan about poor Buster Posey’s gruesome broken leg that benched him for four months.
Hitting a defenseless player that hasn’t had the chance to brace for the impact doesn’t have a place in any other sport. Heck, in football, it’ll usually land you either an unnecessary roughness or targeting penalty — both of which would cost your team 15 yards. And that’s in a sport in which everybody wears pads and hard collisions are applauded and celebrated. Why is it that in baseball, the same act is perfectly acceptable?
In addition, these collisions can significantly impact the flow of an inning. Say that a runner coming home barrels into the catcher and the throw sails past home plate and to the backstop. While the catcher lies dazed after receiving the impact, other baserunners are allowed to advance at their own risk, because the ball is still live until another defender gets to it. This is essentially taking advantage of an opponent’s injury for your gain — evidently, completely okay according to the rules of baseball.
It also presents an inconsistency in how the game is played, because collisions happen at home, but not at any of the other three bases — another thing that has always made me scratch my head. If we’re letting baserunners take out catchers at home plate, why not just let them clothesline the first baseman while we’re at it? Why are second basemen, shortstops and third baseman all safe as well? Catchers already take a lot of wear and tear behind the plate from receiving over 100 pitches every game; do we just really hate catchers or something?
And finally, seeing how angry players get at each other for hit-by-pitches, it’s astounding that we don’t see more fights following home-plate collisions — an even more egregious, blatant show of force, in my opinion. You can seriously hurt a catcher in a collision arguably just as much as you can hurt a hitter with an improperly placed pitch. We saw such a fight happen in late 2013 between two Australian teams. And who can forget Cubs catcher Michael Barrett sucker-punching White Sox counterpart A.J. Pierzynski back in 2006? Baseball fights are serious business; injuries, suspensions and fines are likely to occur, and it’s just not a good idea in general to get two teams to hate each other when projectiles flying at speeds upwards of 90 miles an hour are involved. So why give them another reason to fight?
While the new rule discourages collisions by calling baserunners out when they initiate contact with catchers that possess the ball and are blocking the plate and calling baserunners safe when catchers are seen obstructing the runner’s path to the plate without already having received the throw, it still doesn’t ban collisions altogether — something that really needs to be done sooner rather than later for the sake of both the players and the game.
Do-Hyoung Park was traumatized in little league baseball by being a puny catcher put up against much bigger baserunners who slammed into him without remorse. Give him advice on how to get over this trauma at dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu and Tweet at him at @dohyoungpark.