"It's part of the game," goes the line about home-plate collisions in Major League Baseball.
Not anymore if the league gets its wish, and that's for the best. While it's often easy to criticize MLB for being slow to change, give the league credit for coming to a decision that needed to be made sooner rather than later.
Thursday's big news is that the MLB's Rules Committee has approved a ban on home-plate collisions, effective in 2014:
According to ESPN's Buster Olney, the changes being discussed include the following:
• Catchers will not be allowed to block home plate.
• Runners will not be permitted to target the catchers.
• The question of whether or not the plate was blocked or the runner targeted the catcher will be reviewable, with an immediate remedy available to the umpires.
• Catchers or runners who violate the new rules will be subject to disciplinary action.
Maybe this won't be the ban's final structure. And while it's highly unlikely, there's the off chance that owners and players will balk at the ban.
But for now, the league has the right idea. For all the gripes that can be aired about home-plate collisions being a staple of good, old-fashioned hard-nosed baseball, there's no denying this:
They're dangerous. Really dangerous.
It's all in the science, as this "Sport Science" segment from 2011 can explain:
The takeaway is that home-plate collisions are just as violent as hits that defensive ends can deliver, with the main difference being that ballplayers have less padding to absorb the force.
There's no place for this sort of violence in today's MLB. Players are generally bigger, stronger and faster. The injury risk is very real, and any change that means less injury risk is always a good change. Especially in a time when players are getting more and more expensive.
Just as players shouldn't want anything standing in the way of their earning power, owners shouldn't want anything standing in the way of their investments staying on the field. Eliminating collisions is good business for everyone.
We have more than enough anecdotal evidence that says catchers would be the ones spared from particularly serious injuries.
Catchers have it tougher than other players. Being in the crouch half the time is hellish on the legs, and bruises come often in the form of balls in the dirt and foul tips that elude leather. Additional ways to get beaten up are the last thing they need.
Yet that's what collisions have been for so many years, and the wreckage they've caused is serious enough to have its own place in baseball lore. You think of what Pete Rose did to Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game, and, more recently, what Scott Cousins did to Buster Posey in 2011.
The 1970 All-Star Game was the first of Fosse's career, and it came when he was still only 23 years old. He was never the same after Rose barreled into him, posting a .656 OPS from 1971 on and playing his last season at the age of 32. Over 40 years later, Fosse's still not happy about it.
A repeat of Fosse's ruined career seemed like a real possibility in the aftermath of the Posey collision. He was lost for the season with serious damage to his left ankle, and he was still feeling it several weeks into the 2012 season. That he went on to win the MVP was something nobody could have seen coming.
If it feels like MLB's decision to ban collisions has been a foregone conclusion ever since Posey's injury, that's because that's probably true.
And that's perfectly OK. The league could have lost one of its brightest young stars when Posey was injured, just as it did when Fosse was hurt. The league shouldn't want to risk having to go through the situation again.
Beyond preventing more Fosse- and Posey-like situations, MLB also had to consider the concussion threat. When it comes to collisions, it's very real.
And there's more than just anecdotal evidence at work here. Jorge L. Ortiz of USA Today took a look in September and found that MLB's seven-day concussion disabled list was being used mainly by catchers.
There's also this from Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
At a presentation this past weekend, [Cardinals] trainers and medical officials were told that 22 percent of the concussions throughout the levels of the game were caused by collisions, most of which happened at home plate.
MLB's not blind to what's going on elsewhere in the sports world. It can see that concussions are a dark cloud over the head of the National Hockey League, as well as how decades of concussions are coming back to bite the National Football League.
Here's also assuming that MLB noticed the NFL going out of its way to highlight MLB's growing "concussion issue" back in September. It was as if the NFL was trying to say, "Hey, get off our backs and go bother America's pastime!"
Now the NFL has baseball's response. Assuming owners and players go along with the Rules Committee's ban, MLB will have eliminated a primary cause of concussions within its borders. That should slow MLB's apparently growing "concussion issue."
So do not weep for the loss of home-plate collisions in baseball. It will likely take time for the league to adapt to the new rule, but in the long run the result will be fewer injuries. That's a huge positive, and the one and only negative is no big loss—there will be less contact, but since when is baseball a contact sport anyway?
Baseball will be safer, and it will still be baseball.
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