BEHIND THE PLATE: Collision ban benefits baseball
December 14, 2013
The final destination in baseball is a death trap for catchers.
Left in a vulnerable position as the runner rounds third, the catcher waits and tries to prepare as much as possible for a violent collision. In most cases, the catcher is able to hold ground while falling down as he shakes off the dirt, puts the mask back on and gets into the crouch position for the next batter.
But not all collisions at the plate leave both the runner and catcher able to continue not only the inning but the rest of the game.
Two years ago, a fan favorite saw his season end prematurely after breaking his leg while trying to block the plate. San Francisco's Buster Posey went down and so did the Giants' season after Florida's Scott Cousins vaulted into the second-year catcher in May 2011. Cousins, who went to North Valleys High School, and the hit heard 'round the baseball world ignited an ongoing battle about protecting the catcher during these moments.
Baseball can be as violent as football, especially when a runner speeds down the third-base foul line and rams into a defenseless catcher trying to block the plate while keeping the ball intact with his glove. Major League Baseball is finally addressing the issue and said this week that collisions at the plate will be banned by the start of the 2015 season. The language of the new ruling will be determined next month and the rule could be in effect for the 2014 season.
Safety is the most important issue in sports, regardless of the level and baseball is taking a major step in ensuring players are protected as much as possible. Home-plate collisions are banned in youth leagues, including high school, and players cannot make contact above the waist in college. Ejection and suspension result from malicious content.
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"Ultimately what we want to do is change the culture of acceptance that these plays are ordinary and routine and an accepted part of the game," said Sandy Alderson, the New York Mets' GM who also serves as chairman of the rules committee, to the Associated Press. "The costs associated in terms of health and injury just no longer warrant the status quo."
Baseball is America's favorite pastime and obviously, there is resistance to this rule change.
For more than 100 years, catchers have taken a beating at the plate and continue to insist it's part of the game. But one wrong move could result in greater damage, even more so than Posey's busted leg. Concussions, brain damage and memory loss can stem from home-plate collisions. If you think leg guards and chest protector do anything to protect the runner, then it's time to reevaluate how catchers should dress to protect themselves if this rule should not be instated.
MLB is trying to make the game safe like its counterparts in the NFL, although the biggest show on Sundays is also facing criticism for making football too safe and protecting the quarterback too much, which sounds like flag football is in the near future.
People are afraid of change and feel the best way to respond is with hesitation and resistance. But in time, players and fans will understand the benefit of the new ruling when catchers are able to crank out an extra couple of years in the Big Leagues.
Thomas Ranson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.