Major League Baseball’s Rules Committee approved a ban on home plate collisions Wednesday, changing a rule that had come under scrutiny from those inside and outside the game in recent years because of high-profile injuries to catchers who were a part of such plays. Owners and the players’ union still need to approve the rule for it to take effect in 2014, but it’s a good idea — collisions are rare but dangerous and hardly an integral part of the game of baseball, and they have been banned at most levels of youth baseball for years and in the college game since 2011. MLB doctors and trainers were told this week that 22 percent of concussions suffered in baseball happen on home plate collisions. So by getting rid of a play that doesn’t happen often, baseball could reduce the amount of concussions by nearly a quarter.
That it will make baseball demonstratively safer for catchers without having much impact on the game, of course, didn’t stop sports purists who are averse to making any of our games safer from freaking out about it. Twitter users weighed in with takes like this one: “If you take home plate collisions out if the game you take away baseball.” But since I don’t want to pick on random people who express thoughts on Twitter, I’ll pick on actual media figures and baseball players instead. And while the overwhelming consensus among people who cover the game was that this was a positive step, there were no shortage of those questioning the logic of such a rule.
SportsGrid’s Matt Rudnitsky seems to like the rule, but he does make one comparison that I don’t think works. Rudnitsky wrote, “In terms of safety, it’s obviously a positive. (But you could say the same about outlawing tackling in football.)” Tackling in football is integral to the way the game is played. Baseball’s rule, meanwhile, would eliminate a rare play by treating home plate as the game treats every other base. Eliminate tackling and you fundamentally change football. Eliminate home plate collisions, and roughly 99.9 percent of baseball plays happen just as they do now.
Aside from that, the reactions quickly devolved into the #HotSportsTake category.
Fox News correspondent Rick Leventhal weighed in on Twitter with a take that seemed to sum up the average Twitter-using baseball fan’s thoughts:
— RickLeventhalFoxNews (@RickLeventhal) December 11, 2013
Baseball survived a strike that canceled the World Series and multiple steroid scandals. It has, thus far, survived Alex Rodriguez and Bud Selig and Jeffrey Loria. If it can survive all of that, this will be no problem.
ESPN college basketball analyst Dan Dakich had a take too:
Baseball..no homeplate collisions..damn..Basketball its time to eliminate shot fakes..players coming down on top of each other.the humanity!
— Dan Dakich (@dandakich) December 12, 2013
Again, comparing one thing that happens in sports to another thing that happens in sports doesn’t make them equals.
Moving on, to all-time hits leader Pete Rose, the ultimate hard-nosed baseball player. And nothing says hard-nosed like barreling over a catcher (and basically ending the guy’s career) in the All-Star Game:
“What are they going to do next, you can’t break up a double play?” Rose, who bowled over Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star game, told the Associated Press. “You’re not allowed to pitch inside. The hitters wear more armor than the Humvees in Afghanistan. Now you’re not allowed to be safe at home plate? What’s the game coming to? Evidently the guys making all these rules never played the game of baseball.”
There are multiple ways to be safe at home plate without running over the catcher. Incidentally, they look a lot like the ways to be safe at first base, second base, and third base, three places on the baseball field where a runner can’t demolish a fielder in the hopes of making him drop the ball. As for the “guys making all these rules” who “never played the game of baseball,” one of the biggest advocates for the ban was St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. He spent 13 years as a catcher in the Major Leagues. His career ended because of a concussion.
There’s also Miami Marlins manager Mike Redmond, himself a former Major League catcher. He offered this, according to the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo:
“Well, if I was catching and I knew that the guy wasn’t going to run me over, then I could block the plate and not worry. You know, as a catcher, you always have that aspect of, ‘Hey, this guy could run me over, so I have to be ready,’ and if that is eliminated, you can lay down in front of the plate, right?”
The obstruction rule already prohibits fielders from interfering with runners or blocking a bag when they aren’t making a play on the ball. Also, it’s going to be really hard to catch a baseball while laying down in front of home plate.
And then there’s Cafardo himself, whose column poses the question, “Is baseball going too far in banning collisions?” His answer is “yes”:
How far are we going to take this?
David Ross and Alex Avila suffered concussions as the result of foul balls off their masks during the 2013 season. Are we banning foul balls soon?
Foul balls, as Cafardo hints, are one of the leading causes of concussions among Major League catchers. But they are also an uncontrollable aspect of the game of baseball, much like head-to-head contact in football. The goal isn’t to eliminate concussions, but to limit them while changing the game as little as possible. This does that. If NFL commissioner Roger Goodell could eliminate 22 percent of the league’s concussions simply by removing a part of the game that didn’t actually matter, he’d do it in a heartbeat. Goodell doesn’t have that option. Baseball does, and it’s taking it.
Poll random baseball fans, and you’d probably find that no one shows up to the ballpark to see a base runner run over a catcher. We don’t watch the game for collisions. We watch for home runs, double plays, strike outs, and because we like baseball. This won’t change that. It won’t change the game. All it will do is make baseball a little bit safer for the people who are playing it.