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May 27, 2011

Wezen-Ball

Collisions at the Plate

by Larry Granillo

Late Wednesday night, Scott Cousins of the Florida Marlins (likely) ended the season of San Francisco's reigning Rookie of the Year Buster Posey by colliding with Posey on a play at the plate. Posey, who was more in front of the plate than in the basepath, was turning to make the block and apply the tag when Cousins initiated the contact in an effort to get the upper-hand in the collision (from Cousins' point-of-view, Posey was a split second away from squaring up and tagging him out; Cousins did what he thought was necessary to balance the scales). Posey was upended from his spot, his left leg staying stationary under his body as the rest of him flipped over and made wild contortions. As it stands now, Posey is on the 15-day disabled list with a broken bone and strained ligaments.

The conversation around baseball since the collision - from national writers and commenters to bloggers all over the internet to radio hosts and television announcers - has been almost entirely about the injury and the debate over whether home plate collisions should even be allowed in the sport (we even had a similar debate in the comments to Jay Jaffe's piece). Ignoring for the time the fact that Cleveland's Carlos Santana had a very similar injury last season without garnering even a fraction of the attention Posey's injury has received, the debate seems to settle on one of two points. Either the collisions should be outlawed because baseball is not a contact sport and there is no reason to allow a player to be so vulnerable, especially when there is already a rule in place that is meant to keep things like this from happening; or, the plays should be allowed because they are some of the most exciting parts of the game and have been a part of it from the beginning. Rarely does anyone fall on any other side of the issue.

I'm not sure where I stand at the moment. Typically, I'm in favor of the small improvements that can be made to make people safer - the bat glove, extending nets, pitcher helmets - but I can't decide if this can be considered a "small improvement" and/or if the danger is all that rampant. Home plate is distinct from any other base on the field in both its physical makeup and in its value to the baserunner. It should be no surprise when players on both sides of the ball treat it differently. At the same time, a baserunner like Cousins would only initiate contact the way he did if he was expecting worse from the catcher. If violent collisions were removed from the game, Cousins would have gone for a safer play from the get-go (like the hook slide he should have done all along).

One thing I'll advise against: using the testimony of past players to prove your point. Not only are retired players unreliable in their memories (somehow Jack Morris remembers himself as the greatest pitcher since Sandy Koufax), but players are rarely the best people to ask when it comes to their own safety. From the long history of pushback to the batting helmet (including the current players' objections to the new "Gazoo-style" helmets), the fear of change - and the tough-guy, "back in my day" attitude - has always been stronger than the fear of injury. Players couldn't even be convinced to switch to helmets even after Hall of Fame catcher Mickey Cochrane was forced to retire after a beanball cracked his skull.

I get the feeling that, aside from a possible edict for umpires to better enforce Rule 7.06(b), there won't be much done to halt potentially dangerous plate collisions. It's a complicated enough issue to isolate from the rest of the game, and the injuries happen infrequently enough, that Major League Baseball won't be compelled to act beyond superficial measures. Hopefully, an edict like this will be enough to prevent any further injuries. If catchers know they can't get away with blocking the plate without the ball, baserunners will have no excuse to initiate violent, dangerous contact. However, it's a bit hard to believe that umpires, catchers, and baserunners will all change their ways so quickly. Let's hope there's a better solution out there than just prayer.

Related Content:  Scott Cousins,  Batting Helmets,  Collisions

9 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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BurrRutledge

I can agree with this. If the rules were enforced, there would be fewer collisions.

May 27, 2011 05:16 AM
rating: 1
 
jinaz

To me, it's pretty simple. Even if injuries in collisions don't happen that often, the injuries to Santana, Posey, and maybe also Josh Hamilton--all within the past year--were severe and preventable. Baseball is more fun with its best players on the field. And the rules are already on the books. Just enforce it. College baseball has feet-first sliding rules, and they work fine.

Someone pointed out that no baserunner would ever do what they do to catchers when it's the pitcher covering home plate. This indicates that the issue is not home plate, per se, it's the perception that it's ok for a) catchers to obstruct, and b) baserunners to knock them over.
-j

May 27, 2011 06:57 AM
rating: 2
 
fatted

What rule is in place that would have definitively prevented all these plays from happening?

May 27, 2011 07:48 AM
rating: 1
 
Agent007

I agree with jinaz, that catchers block the plate and runners have a right to knock them over. The only way a rule change could protect players is if the umpire stopped the play before the ball arrived, awarding the runner home plate when the catcher is blocking the baseline. Catchers stand there because that's where the ball should be thrown, and to land on the sliding player so that his slide keeps him from reaching the plate should the throw be a split second late. A catcher could wear different (no spikes) footwear behind the plate so that the foot gives way rather than the spikes digging in, reducing the chance of injury. But making contact at the plate has to be allowed. I have seen two instances this year of pitchers blocking the plate with a foot (one for each pitcher) and tagging the runner out because he slid headfirst. In both instances, a foot-first slide would probably have resulted in a run scored and a pitcher being sent to the DL. Instead, both were out. That's the game.

May 27, 2011 07:49 AM
rating: 0
 
ChicagoOriole

This is one of those things like the brush-back pitch or the retaliatory beanball that are part of the game. Confronting fear is part of the game. Catchers can stay out of the way and not take the risk.

Now, catchers are not very smart, as the catchers that blocked the plate on Bo Jackson can attest to. Rick Dempsey comes to mind.

May 27, 2011 08:34 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

"Catchers can stay out of the way and not take the risk."

Except, as beerd90210 says, Posey was out of the way. The very fact that collisions at the plate are common put Cousins (and other runners) into the mindset that he must collide with Posey, so he did (by lunging at him and initiating the contact). The catcher is at risk just from being near the plate because you never know when a runner will misread the situation and initiate contact.

Cousins never would have made the tackle if he knew that Posey couldn't block the plate like he was expecting...

May 27, 2011 09:00 AM
 
beerd90210

chicago oriole: Posey was out of the way.

May 27, 2011 08:46 AM
rating: -1
 
hyprvypr
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

This is one of the most exciting elements of the game and it's one of the few 'manly' elements of the game. If you make rules like no colliding, avoiding contant, MLB will be going the same pussy way that the NFL is, which frankly has turned into a joke with it's protection rules.

Catchers know runners may slide, often violently to get to the plate. By blocking it, as they are often taught, they are only encouraging, heck requiring, runners to run through them to get to the plate. If catchers don't want to be run over and injured(or if teams don't want this to happen), begin to instruct less aggressive tactics of tagging out runners at home. No one said they have to stand five feet up the baseline towards third, blocking the basepath.

Baseball is a man's sport and injuries happen. Removing all contact and injuries is not only a bad idea, it's a horrific idea. I mean, let's put big nets in front of the batter that retract after he swings to ensure he doesn't get hit. Let's put a BP net out on the mound to prevent the pitcher from being hit, etc.

C'mon, it's a man's sport, injuries are part of life and maschismo is PART of the game.

May 27, 2011 08:55 AM
rating: -4
 
R.A.Wagman

I minused this, but then I changed my mind. That said, I could not vehemently disagree with your straw-man arguments any more. Don't confuse athletics with violence.

May 27, 2011 10:52 AM
rating: 3
 
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