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Time to reconsider collisions at the plate

Dec 15, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT

Palm Beach Post File Photo, 2003 Palm Beach Post File Photo, 2003

One of my absolute favorite moments in baseball history was the final play of the 2003 NLDS between the Marlins and Giants, the one where Jeff Conine fires a one-hopper from shallow left field to Ivan Rodriguez, who braces for impact with J.T. Snow and manages to hold onto the ball as he goes head-over-heels and clinch the series for Florida.

It’s a moment that, if Major League Baseball has its way, will never happen again.

MLB’s rules committee voted on Wednesday to ban all home plate collisions, and if both the league’s owners and players sign off, it will take effect for the start of the 2014 season. And significantly alter the way the game is played.

My initial reaction upon hearing the announcement in the media workroom at the Winter Meetings was one of unease. I consider myself something of a baseball traditionalist, and the home plate collision has become a staple of the sport, one of the most exciting plays the game has to offer.

But the more I thought about it, and the more I listened to people in the game who support this change, I came to the following conclusion: This is the right move.

First and foremost, this is about player safety. Every day we learn more about the devastating long-term effects of concussions and other head injuries sustained in sports, and there’s simply no excuse anymore for ignoring this issue.

No, baseball doesn’t have nearly the same concussion problem as football and hockey, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a problem at all in this sport. Eighteen ballplayers were placed on MLB’s recently created 7-day concussion disabled list this season, 10 of them catchers.

Who knows how many others should have gone on the DL over the years but kept playing through major head injuries because they didn’t know any better?

Angels manager Mike Scioscia, a former catcher, was asked at the Winter Meetings about the worst collision he ever experienced. His answer was simultaneously humorous and unnerving.

“I don’t remember the worst one,” Scioscia said as reporters laughed. “I got knocked out at home plate. I’ve been dizzy. Chili Davis absolutely hit me the hardest, no doubt. And I managed to find a way to our dugout. Jack Clark helped me at home plate. I needed some help being taken off the field. I don’t remember those, to be honest with you.”

Yeah, it’s a great story, but it also should send chills down your spine. Memory loss as a result of head trauma is no laughing matter.

And the ban on collisions isn’t only about preventing head injuries. Buster Posey’s gruesome ankle injury came on a collision at the plate. It’s easy to say that was a fluke play, but it’s not the only time a catcher has suffered a significant leg injury on such a play. I remember Jesus Flores being carted off the field at Nationals Park on Sept. 2, 2008 after the Phillies’ Chase Utley barreled over him and left him with a badly sprained ankle. Flores didn’t return to play that season.

This isn’t only about injuries, though. It’s also about playing the game the right way. You aren’t allowed to run over infielders at first base, second base or third base. Why should you be allowed to run over a catcher at the plate, especially when many of these collisions aren’t about scoring runs but trying to inflict as much pain on the catcher (or vice versa) as possible because the sport allows guys a free shot.

There’s no other play in baseball in which you’re allowed to try to knock over an opposing player. What makes the play at the plate different? Nothing. The problem is that the collision has become an accepted part of the game, which is going to make the transition to the new rule difficult for some.

“Ultimately what we want to do is change the culture of acceptance that these plays are ordinary and routine and an accepted part of the game,” Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, head of the rules committee, said Wednesday. “That the risks and individual risks, the costs associated in terms of health and injury, just no longer warrant the status quo.”

Details of the new rule haven’t been established yet. Will all collisions be banned, or only those in which the runner goes in high? Will catchers be penalized for blocking the plate without having possession of the ball? What will the punishment be for violators?

There is plenty still to discuss and debate. But changes are coming. Even “old school” guys like Scioscia and Johnny Bench (who has endorsed the ban) have come to recognize the need to rid baseball of collisions. So have I.

I’ll always love that dramatic play from a decade ago, with Pudge Rodriguez letting out a primal scream as he held the ball high in his bare hand. But that doesn’t mean I think we should ever see the same play happen again.

  1. NatsLady - Dec 15, 2013 at 6:42 AM

    It’s like when the NFL used release those “exciting” montages of players getting hit like bumper cars. Players aren’t bumper cars. Yes, it changes the game. For the better.

    • NatsLady - Dec 15, 2013 at 6:43 AM

      Bah! used *TO* release…

  2. Faraz Shaikh - Dec 15, 2013 at 7:30 AM

    I am glad more strict actions will follow home plate collisions.

  3. slidell2 - Dec 15, 2013 at 8:00 AM

    I remember the infamous Nyjer Morgan incident where he gratuitously went out of his way up the to unload a cheap shot on an unsuspecting catcher who was not making a play.

    • slidell2 - Dec 15, 2013 at 8:01 AM

      “up the line”

  4. scnatsfan - Dec 15, 2013 at 8:58 AM

    I’m torn. I understand the health reasons for it but every day sports change to be less contact and to me it makes the game less exciting.

    • nats128 - Dec 15, 2013 at 9:05 AM

      “Torn” is what the players are trying to avoid also.

  5. Sec 3, My Sofa - Dec 15, 2013 at 9:56 AM

    I’m not torn at all. The first image I always have is of Pete Rose essentially ending the productive part of Ray Fosse’s career in an exhibition game.

    And if you were to wager that Pete Rose doesn’t like this, you’d win.

  6. trochlis318 - Dec 15, 2013 at 10:14 AM

    I just feel like though with them eliminating collisons the runner has no chance to dislodge the ball from the catcher which gives the runner a huge disadvantage from before they need to do something else that would balance this out.

  7. Sonny G 10 - Dec 15, 2013 at 10:42 AM

    “Will catchers be penalized for blocking the plate without having possession of the ball? “

    I remember a game in little league where I was catching and I blocked home plate without the ball. I was called for interference and the run was scored. When I got up from being bowled over, I was expecting sympathy but was shocked to find out I had been called for interference. That was my introduction to the rule against catchers blocking home plate without the ball.

  8. #4 - Dec 15, 2013 at 10:49 AM

    I used to catch and used to get run over. I always thought it was unfair that I had no way to protect myself on a bang-bang play. Never complained of course because I would have been called a wimp back then. I support the ban. I note that it’s guys like Rose who played most of their careers at positions that weren’t venerable that are against the ban. Listen to the catchers. The baserunners are rarely the Theones who get hurt. They also ought to ban headfirst sliding, especially into home plate. That’s for another discussion.

  9. Eugene in Oregon - Dec 15, 2013 at 11:00 AM

    There will still be plenty of close, exciting — and sometimes disputed (even with replay) — plays at the plate, with runners sliding in feet-first (or making head-first, hook slides). Slides and the resultant contact won’t be banned, according to what I’ve read. And I don’t need to see baseball players reliving their high school football glory days and pretending to be blocking backs flattening a linebacker (which is what too many upper-body home plate collisions resemble).

  10. Doc - Dec 15, 2013 at 11:20 AM

    Good comments girls and guys.

    I’ve also heard on MLB Network baseball executives like Doug Melvin say it takes away from the “….players’ instincts…” and Greg Amsinger, an announcer on MLB Network say the “…game is getting too soft…”

    I note that neither of these guys have strapped on the gear and had a concussion or suffered ankle injury.

    Bottom line: Is it really worth a player’s career to attempt to score one lousy run? These players are investments for baseball and themselves. Let’s treat them that way.

    Johnny Bench said it best about the ban, “….it’s long overdue…”.!

  11. raleighnat - Dec 15, 2013 at 11:32 AM

    What are the rules for other bases? Shouldn’t they be the same for home plate?

  12. natsfan1a - Dec 15, 2013 at 12:19 PM

    Another notable Giants play at the plate was this rescue operation by J.T. Snow:

    • unkyd59 - Dec 15, 2013 at 12:36 PM

      Great moment! Love that… Kid could’ve, seriously, been killed, if a close play had followed…. Attaway, JT!

  13. Eugene in Oregon - Dec 15, 2013 at 1:16 PM

    Changing subjects, but I notice that the Braves are reportedly set to sign Gavin Floyd, a decent — but certainly not outstanding, as far as I recall (and his stats seem to bear me out) — pitcher coming off TJ surgery. Atlanta has already lost Tim Hudson and Brian McCann this off-season and in checking around I can’t find that they’ve added anyone of any real significance. Some rumors have them linked to Jeff Samardzija, but I’m not sure those are credible. Ditto the notion that they’d seriously pursue David Price.

    In looking at the Braves depth chart on MLB.com, I see the same outfield they had last season (a lot of potential, sure, but streaky and frustrating to many Braves fans) and a semi-suspect infield (Does anyone want Dan Uggla, even if Braves eat a big chunk of his salary? If they could unload Mr. Uggla, do you really fear Taylor Pastornicky at 2B and batting 8th? Do people expect Chris Johnson to repeat his 2013 performance or, instead, regress to his mean?). Evan Gattis can hit, but he is an everyday MLB catcher?

    I certainly don’t want to get cocky — knock on imitation wood-grain, please — but are the Braves experiencing an ‘if you stand still you fall behind’ off-season? But, then again, there’s still plenty of time for more trades (I don’t see any free agents left who really fit the Braves needs, though). Just a few random thoughts on what is still a lazy Sunday morning in the Pacific Northwest.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Dec 15, 2013 at 1:18 PM

      Sorry, ‘is he’ not ‘he is’ (where’s that copy editor?).

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Dec 15, 2013 at 4:55 PM

        That’s MISTER Copy Editor to you!
        :)

  14. Section 222 - Dec 15, 2013 at 6:45 PM

    Late to the party, but I enjoyed and agree with many of the comments above. This is a good change.

    The main reason that collisions at home have become part of the game, but collisions at the other bases haven’t, is the runner doesn’t need to stay on the base to be safe. But you don’t have to stay on 1st base either, and collisions to try to dislodge the ball aren’t permitted there. There’s no real reason except tradition to permit them at home.

    Players will learn to slide and to protect themselves from the catchers’ shin guards, they’ll have to go in feet first. And if the rule is that you can’t block the plate without the ball with the penalty being that the run scores, enforced via instant replay, catchers will employ the swipe tag or at least wait to receive the ball before blocking the plate. There will be plenty of exciting plays and maybe even some collisions, but catchers won’t get their bells rung or their ankles broken. That’s a good thing.

  15. therealjohnc - Dec 15, 2013 at 10:35 PM

    You can’t block the plate without the ball … unless you’re Brian McCann.

    • Section 222 - Dec 15, 2013 at 11:13 PM

      Excellent point!

Archives

NL EAST STANDINGS

W L GB
x-WASHINGTON 90 64 --
ATLANTA 76 78 14.0
NEW YORK 75 80 15.5
MIAMI 74 80 16.0
PHILADELPHIA 71 84 19.5
x-Clinched NL East title
Through Saturday's games

NL PLAYOFFS STANDINGS

W L GB WCGB
x-WASHINGTON (5) 90 64 --
y-LOS ANGELES 88 67 2.5
ST. LOUIS 87 68 3.5
-------------------------
SAN FRANCISCO 84 70 6.0 +1.0
PITTSBURGH 83 71 7.0 --
MILWAUKEE 80 75 10.5 3.5
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