Message to GMs: Collisions are part of the game
For so many reasons, this was inevitable: Panic. Whining. Hand-wringing from the Knee-Jerk Society of America over collisions at home plate between runners and catchers ... you know, even though such collisions have occurred since the first baseball was colored white.
Major League general managers are expected to discuss the matter next week when they gather in Orlando for the GM Meetings, and that's fine. It never hurts to exchange thoughts and ideas.
Now if those general managers wish to go further than that, then we'll have a problem. Baseball will have a big problem. More specifically, if baseball's decision-makers wish to change the way they've handled home-plate collisions forever -- which is to say they've ignored the situation -- it will be the game's most significant rule change since the designated hitter was brought into the Major Leagues 40 years ago.
We know how that turned out. Not the best, not if you join me among the most fervent of the game's traditionalists. Altering the way collisions are handled at home plate would be worse than the DH. While the DH effects only the American League, this would affect everybody, which makes you wonder what this is all about.
Buster Posey, you say? Yes, but that's not a good enough answer, even though it was unfortunate what happened to the Giants catcher in May 2011, when his leg was busted during a horrific collision at the plate. He missed the rest of that season after leading the Giants to a World Series title the year before. When he returned in 2012, he led the Giants to another World Series title.
Thus the overreaction. Soon after Posey was carried from the field that day, you heard variations of the following from everywhere: "Baseball needs to do something right now."
Quick: Go back three, four, five or even 20 years. Now tell me all of the ugly home-plate collisions that you can remember prior to the Posey situation, and take your time. Now tell me all of the ones that you can remember since the Posey situation.
See what I mean? Out of the slew of plays at home plate during a given season, they rarely produce catastrophic injuries. When they do happen, they become bigger than life. Nothing illustrates this point more than the 1970 All-Star Game, when hometown Reds hero Pete Rose crashed into Indians catcher Ray Fosse at the plate in extra innings at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium. It gave the NL the victory and Fosse a separated shoulder that affected the rest of his career. While many praised Rose for his relentlessness during an exhibition game, others blasted the player called "Charlie Hustle" for exactly the same thing.
Even so, there were no calls back then above a whisper to get rid of home-plate collisions. In contrast, there was shouting last month after Game 5 of the AL Championship Series between the Tigers and the Red Sox produced a couple of ugly crashes at the plate. In the first inning, the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera rounded third base in what everybody knew would be an unsuccessful attempt to score, but he nevertheless tried to slam the ball away from Red Sox catcher David Ross. It didn't work. Neither did Ross' attempt in the next inning to do the same thing against Tigers catcher Alex Avila.
After Ross plowed into Avila, Ross was out, but so was Avila later in the game. The combination of getting dinged by foul balls and the Ross collision was enough to put Avila out of action with a knee injury. It also triggered more talks from that Knee-Jerk Society to do something about these collisions, even though Avila told reporters afterward, "I've been hit a bunch of times [during collisions]. I've never seen anything wrong with it. It's part of the game. You do what you can as a catcher to protect yourself."
Yes, you do. For instance: You don't try to block the plate, and many teams instruct their catchers not to do so. If catchers do wish to block the plate, they shouldn't do so in a harmful way.
Take the eighth inning of the 1979 All-Star Game. While many remember Dave Parker's famous throw to the plate from right field, most forget that Gary Carter was there to catch it. Not only that, the future Hall of Fame catcher was able to make the grab without putting himself in harm's way of Brian Downing racing from third, and then he pushed the sliding runner away from the plate while applying the tag.
The catcher has control of his own fate in the majority of these situations, and during the rare times when a runner goes out of his way to harm the catcher with an intent other than scoring -- well, players have a way of policing themselves. They don't need outside legislation, because that has a tendency to make things worse.
Those around the NFL are discovering as much. Since the league enacted rules before this season against hitting above the shoulders, they've heard defenders such as Washington Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather say they'll now go after the knees of opponents. Which creates a whole bunch of other issues. Just ask those in college football, where its new targeting rule has been a mess. It calls for a defender to receive an automatic ejection from the game for hitting an offensive player around the head or neck area. Even if a call is reversed after a replay review, the team of that defender still gets a 15-yard penalty.
That new targeting rule has helped decide the outcome of several college football games.
Elsewhere, coaches already are screaming about a new rule change in college basketball, and its regular season doesn't officially start until this weekend. In an effort to increase scoring, the NCAA has instituted something called "freedom of movement" rules, which essentially bans defenders in college basketball from touching offensive players. During an exhibition game last month between Louisville and Kentucky Wesleyan, there were a staggering 64 fouls over 2 1/2 hours (long by college basketball standards), and five players fouled out.
So the message to baseball decision-makers when it comes to what to do with home-plate collisions: Just leave it alone.