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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Should MLB Players Be Allowed to Steamroll the Catcher?

When we see an injury like the nasty one Buster Posey suffered at home plate on Thursday night, we are reminded that at certain times baseball can be as physical as football — without any of the protection.  Fans love to see players who aren’t afraid to go all out and truck the catcher.  We also love to see a catcher who isn’t afraid to put his body on the line for an out even if it means getting run over.  The only question is: Does baseball need it?

Posey’s agent, Jeff Berry, said on Thursday that he plans to contact Major League Baseball and raise the idea of a rule change on plays at the plate.

“You leave players way too vulnerable,” Berry said. “I can tell you Major League Baseball is less than it was before [Posey’s injury]. It’s stupid. I don’t know if this ends up leading to a rule change, but it should. The guy [at the plate] is too exposed.

“If you go helmet to helmet in the NFL, it’s a $100,000 fine, but in baseball, you have a situation in which runners are [slamming into] fielders. It’s brutal. It’s borderline shocking. It just stinks for baseball. I’m going to call Major League Baseball and put this on the radar. Because it’s just wrong.”

Berry makes a very valid point.  The runner is wearing absolutely nothing for protection.  The catcher has a chest protector and leg guards, which isn’t equipment that’s designed for getting laid out.  When you actually stop to think about it, the play doesn’t fit into the game of baseball at all.  We’re just used to it.

You can argue the only reason players are allowed to barrel into the catcher is because the catcher is allowed to block the plate, but how many times have we seen third basemen block the bag when a guy comes sliding in?  It happens all the time but is never addressed.  Yet if a runner came crashing into the third baseman to try to break up the play, he would likely be tossed from the game, suspended, and labeled a cheap player.  Catchers know what they’re up against and getting steamrolled comes with the territory, but injuries like Posey’s should remind us that it doesn’t have to.

My question for the MLB is this: would doing away with runners launching themselves into the catcher really change the game dramatically?  It’s a play that we see maybe a dozen times per season.  If runners slamming into the catcher wasn’t an option, they would find other ways to slide into home.  If catchers knew they couldn’t completely block the runner from tagging the plate, they would find other ways to tag guys out.  The fact that the Giants season has just been altered over a play that is unlike any other in baseball should serve as an unfriendly reminder that rules are meant to be altered.



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