Making catchers safe at home a good idea
New rules would reduce risk of injuries that can occur in home-plate collisions
Joe Torre said it best: "Home-plate collisions are something you cannot ignore."
Those who believe those jarring, exciting collisions as runners barrel over catchers trying to score a run should remain part of baseball are wrong.
Major League Baseball is seriously considering changing its rules to make certain types of hits at home plate illegal. The sooner, the better.
It will be difficult to legislate against what has become as much a part of the game as a runner breaking up a double play at second base.
Regardless, change can and should be enacted.
Start with this: Catchers leave an open -- or running -- lane to the plate. That would eliminate the need for runners to blast into them.
Those who insist home-plate collisions have always been acceptable probably do not realize how the advancement of medical science has shown us how severe even the slightest of concussions can become in later years.
Studies in this area have improved dramatically.
When Giants All-Star catcher Buster Posey suffered a broken bone in his left leg and three torn ligaments in his ankle during a collision with the Marlins' Scott Cousins in May 2011, discussions to ban collisions intensified.
And this wasn't even about concussions.
San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy, himself a former catcher, and St. Louis manager Mike Matheny, whose career behind the plate was cut short after the 2006 season because of a concussion, are the strongest advocates of a new rule.
"Everybody's concerned," Joe Torre, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, said at last week's General Managers and Owners Meetings in Orlando, Fla. "When I sat with the GMs, there was a lot of conversation. Initially, there were two managers who came to me [Bochy and Matheny]. It's something you cannot ignore. We have to find a way.
"I understand collisions, but sometimes they're unnecessary -- like somebody wants contact for some reason. When it gets to the rules committee, you're going to have very understanding people who feel something has to be done.
"The players today are bigger, stronger, faster. They've adjusted rules in other sports to protect them. We have a great game and want to keep the players on the field."
Torre, a catcher during the first half of his 18-year playing career, said he has a meeting scheduled with Bochy and Matheny at the Winter Meetings next month.
"This is something that's really an open forum as far as anyone in baseball who has an opinion on this," Torre said. "We want to listen, because if there is something that can be done, the more opinions, the better."
During October's American League Championship Series, Detroit's Miguel Cabrera attempted to run over Boston's David Ross, and the video replay indicated it wasn't even close. During the same series, Tigers catcher Alex Avila had to leave a game after being hit by Ross. Avila suffered a concussion.
"All that we know now about what's happening in any sport with collisions and concussions has to be examined, not only from the catcher's standpoint, but from the baserunner's standpoint," said Giants GM Brian Sabean. "Do you really want anybody in harm's way? And should they allow there to be any malicious intent in baseball?"
Tony Clark, deputy executive director of the MLB Players Association, told The Associated Press, "Suffice to say, the players have some thoughts of their own regarding home-plate collisions. We'll be addressing them when we [the union's board] meet next month."
Yankees GM Brian Cashman said: "I don't think catchers should be getting pounded. I'd certainly be in favor of changing that rule."
To repeat, creating a running lane to the plate would be a good starting point.
"I think we're seeing more of it [collisions]," said Torre. "Initially, when the question was raised and they asked me about changing, I didn't see too much of it. I put myself back [to my playing days], even though I didn't have a lot of those collisions -- I didn't get there soon enough to have a collision.
"One time I remember trying to [hit] a catcher -- just as I was about to make contact, I closed my eyes and he was gone!" Torre said, laughing. "I found myself rolling around in the on-deck circle. The one thing I don't want to do is lose the sense of how important it is to score a run. If a catcher is there with the ball and the only way you can possibly score the run is to try and jar the ball loose, you went for it.
"If you have the ball early enough, you don't have a collision. The runner has to commit himself far earlier than you have to commit yourself. The Posey thing was different because he was in the act of fielding the ball. That's the dangerous part. He got himself in a bad position because he was in an in-between-hop situation."
Torre suggests that if a catcher has the ball ahead of time, the rule might say the runner has to slide. College rules require the runner to slide on close plays at home.
"But that is tough to do, based on the fact if the runner makes up his mind beforehand," he said. "Then the runner might hurt himself trying to stop himself from sliding or running into the catcher."
Torre added there's a "pretty good possibility something eventually will happen; whether it will be done for the coming year remains to be seen."
Torre said a written proposal will be formulated and presented to the GMs at the Winter Meetings, to be held Dec. 9-12 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
There has never been a more memorable home-plate collision than Pete Rose's crashing into Ray Fosse to score the winning run for the National League in the 1970 All-Star Game at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium. Fosse suffered a dislocated shoulder and was never the same player.
If the rules are changed, plays like that may never happen again.
And baseball and its players will be better off.