MLB: Florida Marlins at San Francisco Giants

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

perezcollision

Phillies vs. Giants, July 1965, via the Associated Press

corralescollision

Astros vs. Mets, July 1967, via the Associated Press

wynncollision

Orioles vs. Senators, April 1957, via the Associated Press

triandoscollision

And, my personal favorite:

Pirates vs. Athletics, July 1917, via the Reading Eagle

hinchmancollision

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.

Comments (11)

  1. “The hitters wear more armor than the Humvees in Afghanistan.”

    That is to say: they have any armor whatsoever.

    • Not at all true. Have you not seen Jose Bautista bat lately? He wears a massive protective pad along his entire left side so he can crowd the plate because the only thing he drive for home runs are balls that are on the inner half. By crowding the plate, he makes the whole strike zone the inner half.

  2. Baseball isn’t hockey or football. Collisions are not a necessary part of the game. Is it exciting? Of course it is, but there are far more important things in baseball than possibly suffering a career ending injury just to score/prevent a single run.

    I’m certain there are ways to protect home plate that don’t involve throwing your body around caveman style. Especially when one man is wearing body armour and the other is wearing little more than a helmet.

    This was the right thing for the MLB to do.

  3. This is pretty bullshit.
    Everybody knows Posey’s leg broke because he didn’t set up correctly.
    Also no where in the rules does it say the catcher HAS to block the plate. They can simply stand to the side and try to tag the runner out, as Buster has done since his return.
    If the train is coming get off the tracks.

  4. No mention of the Buck Martinez play?

    I’ll wait till Jan., when they give us more details.
    No mention, by the author, of how far the rule should go.
    No contact?What about incidental contact?What if the runner tries to knock the ball out of the catchers glove when he isn’t blocking the plate?
    A lot of questions need to be answered.

    • No mention of the Buck Martinez play?

      You know there are 29 other teams, right?

    • The author acknowledges the point that he does not yet have all of the information regarding implementation. A rule can be right, yet still difficult to implement. Also I am sure baseball will do just fine letting umpires determine what is incidental contact. A ton of baseball rules involve umpires making judgment calls (e.g., balls+strikes, infield fly, interference, etc.).

  5. This is great – 4 examples in the last 100 years? This is your evidence? I think more people have gotten struck by lightning than there are home plate collisions and i don’t see anyone banning those.

    What a joke. Talk about NO EVIDENCE – Why do facts not matter to the author?

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