Ban on MLB Home Plate Collisions Would Be Right Move but Decades Late

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Ban on MLB Home Plate Collisions Would Be Right Move but Decades Late
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Alex Avila strained his knee during this home plate collision in Game 5 of the ALCS.

One of the topics expected to be discussed at next week's GM meetings is how to reduce the number of home plate collisions, which have always been injury risks.

Due to the vulnerable position of the catcher trying to block home plate while concentrating on trying to catch a baseball, while the runner bears down on him at full speed with the intention of jarring the ball out of his glove—whether he catches it or not—it's not exactly the safest job on the field.

According to ESPN's Buster Olney, it was the devastating leg injury to star catcher Buster Posey suffered in a 2011 collision that has helped bring the idea of creating a rule to protect the catcher to the forefront. Several other violent home plate collisions in 2013 are also likely to have contributed, including one in Game 5 of the ALCS in which Tigers catcher Alex Avila strained his patellar tendon.

At the time of the Posey injury, Ricky Doyle of NESN.com argued that a change wasn't necessary because home plate collisions were rare and injuries occurring because of them were ever bigger rarities. For whatever reason, though, they seem to be occurring much more often as of late and could finally lead to some action.

Several executives are in favor of a rule change, which could end up being similar to the "Collision Rule," implemented by the NCAA prior to the 2011 season. The rule states, "Contact above the waist that was initiated by the base runner shall not be judged as an attempt to reach the base or plate."

As a result, the umpire has the ability to rule the baserunner out if he feels the rule was violated. The player could also be ejected if the contact was determined to be flagrant or malicious.

As of last offseason, Joe Torre, who is Major League Baseball's vice president of on-field operations, was resistant to the idea. He said he was willing to discuss a potential change, according to Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle, but was not willing to make an adjustment unless "something is going to make the game safer and not affect the way the game is played."

It was an "old school" view from a former All-Star catcher, who started 836 games at the position between 1961 and 1970 before finishing out the last seven seasons of his career splitting his time between first base and third base.

Ironically, Torre was an All-Star in 1970 when Pete Rose and Ray Fosse were involved in the most memorable home plate collision of all time.

Courtesy MLB.com

But two of the league's biggest proponents of a rule change, managers Bruce Bochy and Mike Matheny, are also former catchers. Bochy played in the majors from 1978 to 1987, while Matheny's big league career started in 1994 and ended in 2006.

Of course, Bochy and Matheny manage Posey and Yadier Molina, a pair of catchers who are the most valuable players on their respective teams.

Several other talented catchers around the league who also factor highly into their team's offense are signed to long-term deals, including Jonathan Lucroy, Miguel Montero, Salvador Perez and Carlos Santana. Two teams will also invest a lot of money into free-agent catchers Brian McCann and Jarrod Saltalamacchia this winter.

Bochy and Matheny aren't alone. Teams do want to protect their multimillion-dollar investments.

Professional baseball players have always been bigger, faster and stronger than the average person. But they've become much bigger, much faster and much stronger throughout the years as strength training and nutrition have become more prevalent. Legal supplements and illegal performance-enhancing drugs have only increased that since the start of the steroid era.

Collisions have the potential to be much more violent now than when Torre played. And the players who are being put in harm's way have much more invested in them than players from previous eras.

J. Meric/Getty Images

Posey and Joe Mauer (pictured), the two highest-paid catchers in the game, are expected to transition into full-time roles as first basemen while still in the prime of their careers. They'll still have value but would quickly become overpaid $20-million-plus-per-season hitters with the all-important catcher role no longer part of their job description.

Due to the wear and tear that a catcher sustains throughout his career, a position switch could certainly help to extend a catcher's career or just allow him to play at full strength for much longer. But if a rule change is implemented to make it safer to be a major league catcher, there's a good chance that Posey and Mauer's catching careers will last much longer than had been expected.

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