An End to the Glorious History of Home Plate Collisions

Major League Baseball has went forward with an idea proposed by Joe Torre a few months ago and will be eliminating plate collisions in future games. The rules haven't been completely decided yet and it will have to be approved by the Players Association, but this is happening and likely by the start of 2014. There seems to be no reason for the MLBPA to be against this, as it will do nothing but help save some players from injury while keeping the game fair for everyone else. Penalties have yet to be decided, but it is known that players will be punished for blocking the plate or running into the catcher.

The rule change is largely due to the recent lawsuits against the NFL for concussions, but will likely benefit catchers elsewhere even more. While Joe Mauer has had issues with concussions in recent years and is being moved to first base next season largely because of them, many more catchers have had shortened careers and destroyed bodies from collisions below the head. In fact, most concussions for catchers are caused when a hitter's back swing hits the catcher in the back of the helmet, or a foul ball hits them in the mask, so the new rule won't be able to stop the majority of concussions.

One play that would not have happened with the new rules is the play in 2010 that ended Carlos Santana's season. If you have the stomach, you can watch the brutal play below. Make sure to stick around for the vivid slow-motion replays:

The play ended Santana's rookie season two months early and threatened to end his career. In the end, he amazingly didn't tear anything, he just hyper-extended his left knee and strained his LCL. Under the new rules, Santana would actually have been the player at fault and the runner would likely have been called safe. This may seem unfair, but which is better, one run allowed now, or your star catcher missing two months of baseball. The rule is fair as it will affect each team equally. It may turn into a few more runs over the length of a season, but it will likely save almost as many injuries. 

The reason Santana reached back with his leg on that play is that it was expected of him. Just like when Ray Fosse had his career ruined on a similar play in the 1970 All-Star Game, he felt inclined to protect the plate. Catchers are forced by the expectations placed on them to do this, no matter what may be barreling down the third base line. In the past, if they didn't put their bodies on the line, they would be disciplined by managers and trashed in the media. Now, blocking the plate could result in a guaranteed run as a penalty, so they will need no more excuses to protect themselves. No other player on the field is asked regularly to risk injury on a completely avoidable play so the pressure put on catchers to do so in the first place is completely unfounded.

While some (like Pete Rose, who ruined Fosse's career in an exhibition game) may feel like the new rule hurts the integrity of the game, it will change a lot less than it helps. In fact, it probably would have been put into place years ago had catchers been the primary offensive producers in past seasons. As soon as any team's best hitter (like Santana or Buster Posey) is knocked out for the season because of an unnecessary play this result would seem inevitable. It was likely the defensive preference of the catchers of the past that delayed this rule change for so long. The fact is, no single run is worth risking the legs, shoulders or heads of any player and this new rule will keep those players from making this unfair trade-off.

Joseph Coblitz

About Joseph Coblitz

Joseph is the primary writer and editor of BurningRiverBaseball.com and has been since it's inception in 2011. He is a graduate of the University of Akron and currently resides in Goodyear, Arizona the Spring Training home of the Cleveland Indians.

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