26 May 2011

The Merits of Bone Crunching Play

On-field collisions are a topic that I have great interest in.  Unfortunately, it had to take a promising young star, Buster Posey, to forcefully ask the question: should MLB allow intentional collisions?

My answer:
April 23, 2010 - Bobby Wilson (concussion)
June 8, 2010 - Gregg Zaun (shoulder)
August 1, 2010 - Carlos Santana (knee)
April 14, 2011 - Josh Hamilton (arm)
April 16, 2011 - Nyjer Morgan (leg)
May 25, 2011 - Buster Posey (leg)

These are the guys who I immediately remember from the past couple seasons.  This list is not comprehensive.  Even a listing that carefully scanned newspaper reports from the past year would likely miss all of the injuries caused by collisions.  Of particular note are the concussions suffered by runners and catchers from these events.  As we know from football, concussions are often hidden or not reported.  As we are beginning to learn from learn from football, these concussions can have long lasting damage well beyond the end of a career.  Further troubling for catchers are that they will sometimes suffer concussions by being hit by foul balls.  Simply put, an athlete running full speed into a stationary person is in no way safe and in the current state of the game, it is largely unavoidable.

Some would argue that catchers do not have to block the plate.  That it is their choice to do so.  I find this reasoning to be failing because blocking the plate is an industry practice.  All catchers block the plate.  If you want to be a catcher, you have to block the plate.  There is no way around it.  You have no choice.  Base runners are often given a choice.  A month ago, Felix Pie sprinted home on a passed ball.  Big-boned Joba Chamberlain blocked the plate before getting the ball and forced Pie to go around him.  A collision is not something the stringy Pie would have had much success with.  He chose not to force a collision and when he was called out, the fans gave it to him for not getting dirty.  Catchers have to protect the plate and are not blessed with an endless succession of Felix Pie's.

Is the game really better for having those collisions at home plate and these guys losing a week, a few months, a season, or a career?  Is baseball really more entertaining being without Josh Hamilton?  Is it more entertaining without Buster Posey?  These are the costs for allowing catchers to block home and permit runners to plough into them with basically no protective padding.  We should also suspect that dozens of concussions occur without any recognition and concussions are seriously dangerous.  I see nothing redeeming in keeping collisions.

Two things need to be done:
1. Catchers should not be allowed to block the plate.  Home plate should be no different than any other base.
2. All runners who intentionally try to injure a catcher need to be ejected immediately and given a month long suspension.

This needs to be implemented immediately.  It should have been put in place long ago.  Major League Baseball has a responsibility to those it employs to protect them within reason.  This is not equivalent to wrapping players in bubble wrap.  It directly addresses an issue that puts players in unneeded harm.  They have done this before.  Batters are required to wear helmets.  Base coaches are required to wear helmets.  Teams institute their own safety programs by including warning tracks and padded outfield fences.  It is difficult to find many industries that would permit tangential risks to its employees.  Yet, baseball continues to do so after several players serve as examples year in and year out.  This needs to stop. 

This perspective should reach beyond home plate.  For instance, when Nick Swisher slide wide and dropped Nishioka.  It was a clean play as the rules are enforced.  However, looking at the photo it is difficult to see how this is not a case of a runner given too much liberty in what constitutes as a base path.  This type of play should result in an automatic double play, Swisher getting ejected, and him being suspended for a month.  None of this improves baseball.  All it does is remove skilled players from the field.  It prevents us from watching good players play good baseball.

It is a shame.

And this can be corrected immediately.

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