I think it’s ridiculous how ticky-tack and petty penalties have become in football. You all know what I’m talking about; I’m all in favor of preventing concussions and so forth, but the fact is that big hits are part of the game. The fact is that under the current rules some of the greatest defensive players of all time would probably be labeled as dirty (Sam Huff, Dick Butkus, and even Ronnie Lott and Lawrence Taylor). However perhaps the worst part of it is that whether or not a hit is considered dirty is really left up to the discretion of the ref. So in that split-second and in the moment, some of the most controversial figures in sports get to decide if a play or a player is dirty. A comforting feeling for sure if you play defense.
Unfortunately, Major League Baseball is starting to go down this same route. First off baseball is a different game, and there’s nowhere near the amount of contact in baseball as there is in football. But one nugget that came out of the winter meetings was the fact that managers and GM’s had voted to ban home plate collisions, possibly starting in 2014. (The rule change still has to be approved by owners and the MLBPA in order for it to take affect next season.) First off let me preface this by saying that I recognize that player safety is important. San Francisco’s Buster Posey was severely injured a few years ago in a home plate collision, and of course Ray Fosse’s career was famously wrecked due to a collision with Pete Rose in the all-star game. I’m not suggesting that the game be made more dangerous or anything along those lines. However…is there not a happy medium someplace?
While the legalese of the rule change hasn’t totally been released, I’ve heard a few rumors to the effect that the runner will automatically be called out if he makes contact with the catcher. Furthermore, I heard an even more ridiculous submission to the effect that catchers will no longer be allowed to block home plate. So let me get this straight. catchers would then have to in essence give base runners an unimpeded path to home plate? Speaking for myself, I feel that’s ludicrous. Blocking home plate is one of the cardinal aspects of being a catcher.
Let me be clear; I’m not suggesting that home plate collisions aren’t dangerous, just as I’m not suggesting that NFL players aren’t at risk for serious injury. However as I said, that’s part of the game. Look at how criticized NFL refs are now with regard to helmet-to-helmet hits. Ultimately, that’s a judgement call that’s left up to the officials. MLB would be putting umpires in the same situation; they would have to make snap decisions on whether or not the catcher was truly “blocking” the plate. Did the runner have a clear path to home plate, or was it obstructed? Furthermore, what constitutes obstructing home plate…an entire body, an arm, or a leg? This is what we’ll end up having to discuss with regard to home plate “situations” moving forward.
Again – and I say this at a risk of sounding insensitive or cruel – this is all part of the game. Players put themselves at risk simply by entering onto the athletic field. I would encourage the players association and the owners to seriously consider voting this measure down. Incidentally, does this almost devalue players who are good at blocking home plate, such as Matt Wieters of the Baltimore Orioles?