For A Century Players Like Ty Cobb and Pete Rose Gave Baseball a Little Taste of Lawrence Taylor at Home Plate–No More
Picture yourself in your favorite Major League ball park. The home team is trailing by a run with two out in the bottom of the ninth. A hard single is hit into the outfield and the runner on second is now rounding third and heading for home. The throw comes in from center field in advance of the runner and the catcher takes the ball on one hop. The runner slides into home plate as the catcher waits for him. Out at home; game over. Baseball fans will understand the problem with this scenario. No base runner slides into home plate if the catcher already has the ball. For more than a century, runners in this situation have hurled themselves into the catcher in an attempt to dislodge the ball and score the run. But never again.
According to Sports Illustrated’s SI Wire, the New York Daily News and other sources, Major League Baseball’s Rules Committee will soon ban base runners from deliberately colliding with catchers. (The rule change needs approval from the players’ union, but that is expected.) For baseball, a dull game redeemed by enduring moments, the rule change will reduce the number of lasting memories. It is also a break with tradition for a game that applauds itself for its adherence to its roots–it’s the national pastime, after all. The motivation of Major League Baseball is admirable: protecting players better. Over the decades a handful of catchers, most famously Ray Fosse (1970) and Buster Posey (2011), suffered injuries after violent home plate collisions. In Posey’s case, he was a young star whose injury occurred shortly after signing a long term contract. So the San Francisco Giants’ owners were probably as rattled by Posey’s collision as Posey himself. Fortunately for both parties, Posey came back strong—winning National League MVP in 2012. Unlike NFL football, where growing evidence suggests that the game is fundamentally dangerous, there is no reason to believe baseball is routinely bad for its players. Getting beaned by a 95-mph fastball or smashed by a line drive up the middle are more serious threats than home plate collisions, but even serious injuries from beanings or line drives are rare, and serious injuries from home plate collisions are even more rare. It is hard to oppose player safety, but, in this case, we have to ask ourselves whether this is a solution in search of a problem. // Michael Adelberg