URL Weaver: Blocking Progress

St. Louis Cardinals v Washington Nationals

There is no satisfying or all-encompassing answer to the question “should baseball end collisions at the plate?” Barbaric as it may seem, it is a part of the game – a game into which both parties enter voluntarily. Collisions at the plate are scary and yet divisive.

As with most things, the opinion a person forms depends on their perspective or agenda, depending on how much you tilt your head. When San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy comes out in favor of banning collisions at the plate, it doesn’t take a very long memory to recall his team losing their star player and MVP Buster Posey for most of the 2011 season after a terrifying play involving Scott Cousins, then of the Florida Marlins.

The old guard of baseball fans don’t want to see collisions removed from the game. A certain segment of the fan base will always feel as though removing contact or danger from the game &mdASH; be it fighting or hits to the head in hockey or certain types of hits in football — pacifies the game they love.

Many in the game feel the same. Joe Torre, a former catcher and long-time big league manager, says he is willing to listen on rule changes to eliminate home plate collisions but feels as though they will remain a part of the game.

Perhaps Torre and others will be more willing to listen when the current vanguard of players and managers begin to speak out in favor of better rules to protect the players. When those players are current manager and former catcher Mike Matheny, they carry a little extra weight.

Mike Matheny told Matthew Leach of MLB.com yesterday that he is very much in favor of eliminating home plate collisions altogether, joining a chorus which includes current Padres catcher John Baker. Matheny claims this is a complete 180 for him, a self-described “old school guy” who “doesn’t see the sense” in allowing catchers to become targets at the plate.

Matheny’s career was cut short by complications from concussions, though he feels that informs just a small part of his decision to change course on this topic. That said, worries over brain injuries are legitimate at all times, according to Matheny.

“We’re talking about the brain,” Matheny said. “It’s just been so shoved under the rug. I didn’t want to be the poster boy for this gig, but I was able to witness in ways I can’t even explain to people how that altered by life for a short period of time and changed the person that I was. It’s scary. So that being said, you look at this game, can this game survive without this play? And I say absolutely. You’re putting people at risk.”

Matheny advocates a rule change which prevents both runners from colliding with catchers at home plate as well as catchers from blocking the plate with their bodies. In other words, treating home plate like every other base.

Until such a time that the rules change, it is up to the individual teams and players to decide on what is right for them. The Mets instructed their top catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud NOT to block the plate should the opportunity arise. Already a player with a spotty track record of health, the Mets wisely don’t want to lose the top prize from the R.A. Dickey trade if they can avoid it.

Looking at the big picture, there is so much to lose and so little to gain from violent collisions at home plate. That said, treating home plate like the other three bases might not be fair as it isn’t like the other three bases. The rules — written and otherwise — which govern home plate are different than those for the rest of the diamond.

There isn’t a decent parallel in any other sport for a crash at the plate. In all other sports, the person being hit as the opportunity to move. In baseball, the catcher just sits there and takes it. That isn’t sporting nor is it “part of the game”, that’s just setting a player up for injury – something nobody really wants to see.

And the rest

Speaking of catchers, Russell Martin is bothered by a sore shoulder. Must have hurt it when he turned his back on his country. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review]

Speaking of the best, Grant Brisbee [SB Nation]

“People with high on-base percentage and low strikeout rates at the top of the lineup is always good…” The words of another pencil pushing stats nerd? Nope, just the most prolific home run hitter in baseball, Jose Bautista! [North of the Border]

Pettitte throws a no-hitter! Not Andy, his high school aged son in Texas. #old [NYT Bats]

The Giants show the Diamdondbacks how it is done – SF is the only club in baseball without a single African-American, notes Andrew Baggarly. [CSN Bay Area]

Bryce Harper keeps crushing spring pitching, sending the Nats beat writers into further paroxysm of pleasure. [Washington Pom Pom Post]

Oscar Taveras causes beat writers in St. Louis down a similar road of self-befoulment. [St. Lous Post-Dispatch]

Bobby Valentine thinks Bobby Valentine did a bang-up job in Boston. [Big League Stew]

Keep spreading the Evan Gattis love! More hits for El Oso Blanco! [AJC]

Comments (16)

  1. I’m in agreement with Matheny’s *intent* – like football and hockey have realized, baseball should want to eliminate (or at least penalize) “hits” on defenseless players. However, like expanded instant replay, I’m not seeing any proposals for what exactly the rule change could be to achieve that goal practically.

    I’m not convinced that the rules don’t already treat home plate the same as the other bases. It’s just not usually practical for a runner to barrel into fielders at other bases (except 1st!), because they have to stop and hold the base.

    If he’s holding the ball, the catcher – like any fielder at any base – is entitled to stand where he wants to try to make a tag. The runner, between any bases, is entitled to make effort to reach the next base. So how do we square that circle?

  2. “Must have hurt it when he turned his back on his country.”

    Bravo!

  3. I completely agree with everything Bobby Valentine said in that article. Of course, I may be biased because I absolutely love wrap sandwiches.

  4. As Dubya would say, “Bobby, you’re doing a heckuva job”.

  5. “There isn’t a decent parallel in any other sport for a crash at the plate”

    Did you consider how the NFL has adopted rules to protect QB’s and Punters? What about NHL and the debate about no-touch icing? Even the helmet and visor debates in the NHL were at least somewhat about protecting the players and the fight vs the old school. Couldn’t some parallels be drawn here?

  6. Easiest way – no blocking bases. Catchers won`t get run, second basemen won`t get spikes in their legs and so on. Catcher blocks the base, automatic safe.

  7. I would hate to see plays at the plate decided by an ump’s discretion on whether the catcher was “blocking” the plate.

    I think you’d have to make all plays a force, like in 3 pitch.

  8. Hey Drew,

    Your points about blocking the plate are fine but I kept expecting you to bring in the “Fasano Flop”. I assume you saw it in Ken Fidlin’s article (which I accessed via DJF):
    http://www.torontosun.com/2013/02/25/blue-jays-pitcher-josh-johnson-quells-doubts-about-arm
    If true, it seems like an immediate and useful option – if still only a partial solution. Thoughts?

    • That’s what I was taught as a high school catcher 15 years ago. Coach used to hurl the batting cage netting stuffed equipment bag at us as we received the ball. It seemed pretty effective with a 50 pound bag, and I assume it would be with a 200 lb human running at you, too, but I don’t really think you can say Sal “devised” it as Fidlin asserts.

      • Thanks Bart,
        So why don’t you see it more often (ever?). Was it effective? Maybe too passive for “real men”?

  9. What makes home different than the other bases is that the catcher is wearing gear. Spikes are less of an issue. Ever seen a pitcher covering home block the plate?

    As long as that gear’s on, catchers will be prone to quasi-bravery. But that doesn’t mean blocking shouldn’t be banned.

    As for “in all other sports, the person being hit as the opportunity to move,” tell that to a wide receiver catching a ball, especially a leaping one. Or a goaltender with a power forward bearing down on him. On ice. With swords on his feet.

    In those sports, savage hits result in suspensions.

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