Reporting Kevin Wheeler
Collisions at home plate need to go the way of the dinosaur.
That is not a reaction to what we saw in Pittsburgh last night. You need to understand that I’m not taking this stance just because it was Yadier Molina who got trucked. In fact, most of what follows is word-for-word what I said about the Scott Cousins-Buster Posey collision last year. This isn’t about sticking up for the home team, it’s about common sense.
What we saw last night would be considered an illegal hit in the NFL and NHL. It would draw at least a fine and in-game penalty, if not a suspension (depending on the hitter’s history).
That should be enough logic right there to legislate collisions at home plate out of baseball. If two contact sports, played by men who are dressed in gear meant to protect their bodies from such contact, have taken steps to eliminate that kind of hit from their sports then why does it make sense to leave a dangerous play like that in baseball?
Sadly, this represents yet another case where baseball is behind the curve. They were late to the party when it came to testing for performance enhancers and they’re lagging behind in this issue as well.
We know the dangers of concussions, or at least we know a lot more than we did even a few years ago, so taking logical steps to prevent these dangerous collisions isn’t just a “good idea,” it’s an absolute necessity. Careers are ended by concussions and unfortunately Mike Matheny and Jason LaRue know that all too well. The “final straw” that ended their careers didn’t come from a collision at home plate but if a foul ball or a kick to the head can cause enough damage to force a player into retirement (obviously after having had other concussions as well), what makes you think that a 200-pound man running full speed into a player who is a vulnerable, stationary target wouldn’t be enough to end a career?
This isn’t about toughness. This is about common sense.
If you’re out by 5-10 feet at home plate it is perfectly acceptable to try to blast the catcher into the 5th row but if you do the same thing at any other base you’ll get thrown out of the game. Why is that?
Don’t give me the lame excuse that “catchers have gear to protect them” either. That gear is designed to protect the body from the damage that can be done by a 5 oz. baseball. The gear is not designed to protect a catcher from a 200+ pound man slamming into him at full speed.
I know a lot of “old school” catchers will disagree with me and I don’t care. A lot of “old school” football and hockey players have complained about the limitations in place in the modern version of those two sports but those leagues are in the right and the “old schoolers” are in the wrong.
When you have solid medical research showing just how dangerous concussions are you need to act on that knowledge. Major League Baseball has legislated the beanball out of the game, for the most part, so why not take another logical step and the same rules apply at all of the bases?
Here’s how you go about eliminating home plate collisions from the game…
1) Home plate is treated like any other base. If the ball beats you to the base you have three choices: slide, turn around and go back to the base you came from or give yourself up.
2) Enforce the rule that already exists stating that the catcher cannot be in the base path without possession of the ball. To put this into play, simply state that if the catcher is blocking the runner’s path to home plate before he has the ball in his possession then the base runner is automatically safe. If necessary, instant replay could be used to determine whether or not the catcher is in the base line. In cases where a throw takes the catcher into the base line then it becomes a judgment call for the umpire.
3) The base runner is automatically out if he takes out the catcher and all base runners go back to the base they had already reached at the time of the collision.
There are other nuances that would have to be taken into account but that’s the case with the rules that are in place both in football and hockey so that’s not a reason for leaving things the way they are.
Thankfully these kind of collisions aren’t as common as big hits in football and hockey. That may be what has kept people from acting on this issue, to be honest. But the rarity of the event doesn’t take away from the severity of the potential injuries, especially when it comes to concussions.
“Old school” players, coaches and fans always resist change. They argued against rules protecting the quarterback, they rebelled against the rule making it mandatory for hockey players to wear helmets and they fought against adding the Wild Card to baseball. That’s what “old schoolers” do. And guess what. They were wrong about all of those other things just like they’re wrong about keeping home plate collisions a part of Major League Baseball.
It’s time for Bud Selig to step up. The commissioners of other leagues have bucked tradition for the sake of player safety and Major League Baseball should do the same here whether the tough-guy old schoolers like it or not.