“I believe in rough games and in rough, manly sports. I do not feel any particular sympathy for the person who gets battered about a good deal so long as it is not fatal.”
Teddy Roosevelt, in 1903, defending football as injuries threatened football’s status in American universities.
Home plate collisions are not gone from major league baseball, as headlines like “MLB banning home plate collisions starting in 2014” would suggest, but at the least, they will no longer be sanctioned by the rules of the game. It isn’t clear just what the new system will look like — what contact will be legal, if any; what restrictions will be placed on the catchers; what will be the penalties, etc — but the gears are set in motion.
The catalyst, as nearly everybody agrees, was the collision which saw Giants All-Star catcher Buster Posey‘s ankle snap under the force of charging Marlins outfielder Scott Cousins in 2011. Considering how long baseball typically waits for action — think of the steroid issue, or the replay issue, for instance — the change practically occurred in the blink of an eye.
But not everybody is pleased about the development, and Britain’s Daily Mail is on the case. The Mail caught up with pretty much everybody in baseball who was ready to defend the game’s masculinity.
Pete Rose was the piece’s central hero, a fitting star for a focus on unthinking manliness.
‘What are they going to do next, you can’t break up a double play?’ Rose said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press after MLB announced its plan yesterday.
‘You’re not allowed to pitch inside. The hitters wear more armor than the Humvees in Afghanistan. Now you’re not allowed to try to be safe at home plate?’ Rose said.
‘What’s the game coming to? Evidently the guys making all these rules never played the game of baseball.’
Banned for life in 1989 following a gambling investigation, Rose insists Fosse was blocking the plate without the ball, which is against the rules. Fosse injured a shoulder, and his career went into a tailspin.
‘Since 1869, baseball has been doing pretty well,’ Rose said. ‘The only rules they ever changed was the mound (height) and the DH. I thought baseball was doing pretty good. Maybe I’m wrong about the attendance figures and the number of people going to ballgames.’
Most of what Rose said is factually incorrect, but that’s besides our point today. The Mail also quotes A’s outfielder Josh Reddick (“No more home plate collisions?! What is this? NFL quarterbacks are catchers now?”), Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez (“Nothing better than getting run over and showing the umpire the ball. Please don’t ban home plate collisions.”) in defense of the practice.
Overall, the dissent has been relatively small, but as the Mail article (and its obvious pro-violence bias) shows, it does exist. And we shouldn’t be surprised. Roosevelt and his big stick stumped for football despite the violence — occasionally fatal violence, in those days — because he truly believed there was a moral value to be taken from the bumps and bruises taken from the game.
And to a point, he’s probably correct. Part of the greatness of sport comes from its difficulty, whether in terms of aerobic endurance, skill level, or pain tolerance. Being able to overcome a few scrapes to help your team reach a goal is a noble thing to learn and experience, especially as a youth.
But, I wonder, where the nobility was in these stories of home plate collisions from baseball’s past.
Royals vs. Red Sox, July 30, 1980, via the Associated Press
Phillies vs. Giants, July 1965, via the Associated Press
Astros vs. Mets, July 1967, via the Associated Press
Orioles vs. Senators, April 1957, via the Associated Press
And, my personal favorite:
Pirates vs. Athletics, July 1917, via the Reading Eagle
For any word you can find about a home plate collision having a legitimate effect on a baseball game, there are tens — if not hundreds — more reading as nothing more than an injury report. The point: the home plate collision not only results in injury after injury, it isn’t even an important aspect of baseball. Hence why baseball at every other level, from little league up through NCAA, has banned the move and still remains a perfectly recognizable game.
As for the wussification of the game, there will always be people crusading against any elimination of violence as if they were Sylvester Stallone’s loose cannon cop in his 1993 sci-fi disaster Demolition Man, the only man manly enough to save the world from a society trained to be too nice and too pure.
But let’s consider Theodore Roosevelt, the ultimate man’s man. He was utterly against changing the rules of football in 1903. Then, Theodore Roosevelt Jr. joined the Harvard freshman football team in 1905 and had his nose broken. In 1905, 19 players died and 137 players left the field with serious injuries. And then it was Roosevelt leading the charge for such safe and antiseptic rules as the neutral zone and the forward pass.
Obviously, standards were a bit different 100 years ago, but the story is the same. We can talk all we want about how much the violence makes the man, until we see the violence break the man on the field one too many times.