It didn’t take long for the first major controversy of spring training to come to light.
Earlier in the week, San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy announced that he has instructed his team’s young catcher, Buster Posey, to avoid blocking home plate in the event of a runner trying to score. Posey, who suffered a season-ending leg injury in a collision at home last year, will instead field the position in the same manner as an infielder applying a tag at any other base. Clearly, the Giants believe that the possibility of giving up an additional run is not worth the risk of another season-ending injury.
Public reaction to this announcement was both predictable and sad, as both Bochy and Posey received heavy criticism for the suggestion of this idea. Some claim that Posey displayed poor fundamentals because he failed to position himself properly to avoid injury (ignoring the fact that it was a bang-bang play to begin with), while others simply believe it was an overreaction to a freak occurrence. Then there was the overly macho subset of fans who accused both Posey and the Giants of cowardice, claiming that collisions at home are a part of the game and that Posey should switch positions if he can’t handle it.
All of these arguments illustrate the very thing that is wrong with the issue: Why are home-plate collisions even a part of the game? Why is bowling over the catcher an accepted practice when it is not tolerated at any other base?
Proponents of the practice like to point out that catchers are the only players on the field that wear extra padding and protection. What they ignore, however, is that this equipment is not the same as football gear. It is designed to minimize the impact of a six-ounce ball, not a 200-pound baserunner. It’s like saying that a cyclist will be safe riding through an active construction zone as long as they are wearing their bike helmet. The equipment simply isn’t the equivalent of what is needed to be safe.
Another common argument in favor of the practice is about fundamentals, claiming that catchers are taught how to block the plate safely and properly at a very young age (though, this doesn’t apply to Posey, who did not start catching until his sophomore year at Florida State). The problem with this argument is that home-plate collisions are not allowed at any other level of organized baseball, as players are required to slide at every level from little league to college ball. This means that the fundamentals that were appropriate at one stage of development might actually be causing danger at another stage.
Then there are critics who like to make the “That’s how it’s always been done” argument, claiming that home-plate collisions have always been a fundamental part of the position. To this, I say, “So what?” It is this type of thinking that has kept stupid or outdated mentalities alive for thousands of years. Clearly, the practice of slamming into the catcher can have serious negative consequences to both the catcher and the baserunner (who are charging into a player at full speed). Eliminating collisions also would not fundamentally change the game in any significant way, as they aren’t allowed at any other level of the game to begin with.
Finally, there are those fans who claim that, considering all the money players make these days, they should be willing to accept these risks as an expression of giving 110 percent. If anything, the fact that players are making more money than ever should be an argument for preventing collisions, as an injured player is not able to contribute to the team and is therefore wasted salary.
The argument about collisions at the plate is no different than the argument over wearing batting helmets, which was fought tooth and nail for decades but has since become an accepted practice at every level of baseball. While it’s tough to imagine a collision resulting in a Ray Chapman-like incident, it clearly represents enough of a risk to potentially end the career of a promising player—for no good reason whatsoever, I might add.
Therefore, I propose that any player who chooses colliding with the catcher over sliding at home is to be immediately ejected from the game and receive at least a six-game suspension, which is the equivalent punishment for headhunting. At the same time, the rule about unobstructed basepaths needs to be enforced at home plate. Until then, catchers such as Posey should continue to avoid blocking the plate in order to reduce the threat of injury. After all, a tag out counts exactly the same as a collision at home.
This issue isn’t about being macho; it’s about player safety.