Sep 3, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Texas Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski (12) tags out Oakland Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson (20) in a collision at home plate during the third inning at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
This season, there has been increasing talk about banning collisions at home plate.
Earlier this year, Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci called for a ban of collisions at home plate after Lou Marson of the Cleveland Indians was run over by Tampa Bay’s Desmond Jennings. Marson subsequently went on the DL with a neck strain.
Verducci cited not only Marson’s injury, but those of Buster Posey, Ray Fosse, Bobby Wilson, and Brett Hayes. You don’t see collisions at any other base, he asserted, so why allow them at home plate? Is it simply our lust for violence that allows this behavior to continue?
Former catcher Mike Matheny, now manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, agrees. Matheny’s career came to a premature end due to a concussion. “I do believe that this game will get to the point where there will no longer be a collision at the plate,” he said. “And I am 100 percent in support of that.”
Another former catcher, Gregg Zaun, disagrees. In an interview with SiriusXM radio, Zaun felt Posey got hurt because he was out of position, specifically, that he wasn’t in an “aggressive” enough stance. Zaun feels the rules shouldn’t be changed because a small percentage of catchers get hurt, and he feels if catchers used proper technique, they won’t get hurt during a home plate collision.
However, there’s a different way to look at this problem. Yes, it’s true that there are no collisions at any other base besides home plate. The reason? Infielders are not taught to block the base.
If a second baseman puts his leg in front of a sliding runner, he’s going to get spiked. Perhaps not intentionally, but where else does the baserunner have to go? You never see a first baseman throw himself in front of the first base bag after he takes a throw from the shortstop. So why are catchers taught to block home plate?
They should be taught to stand in front of the plate and sweep a tag. This is a technique Posey has adopted since returning from his injury. There will always be contact, just as there is at any base, but this will eliminate full-on collisions.
While baseball is a game that is played mostly with finesse, there is an element of contact as well. Baserunners will take out middle infielders with a hard slide to break up a double play. Batters take their lives into their own hands every time they come to bat, helmet or not. Catchers are victims of foul balls to the mask far more than they are victims to home-plate collisions. Pitchers are at risk, since they have little time to react to hard liners, and the ball isn’t exactly made of foam. And all fielders are at risk of running into sparsely-padded fences, or short, brick sidewalls that are so popular among the modern-retro ballparks these days.
In fact, if Major League Baseball really wants to prevent injuries, that’s where safety measures should be increased. More players suffer concussions and other serious injuries as a result of slamming into outfield walls than they do at home plate. Just ask Jason Bay, Bobby Valentine, and Bryce Harper. And these kinds of plays are far more common than home-plate collisions, which are very rare in today’s game.
If you don’t want your catcher to get run over, teach him the art of the tag. Safety is good, but you can never eliminate all contact from the game, especially on the basepaths. There is always risk involved when the best athletes in the world are competing at full speed, no matter what the sport.