Baserunner/catcher home plate collisions are back in the news after Nyjer Morgan instigated two such collisions that ended up costing his team runs and generated controversy.
The first happened in last Saturday’s game between the Cardinals and the Nats. Willie Harris hit a bases-loaded double with Morgan on first base. Morgan came flying around the bases, and St. Louis catcher Bryan Anderson initially set up to block the plate.
However, Cardinals’ first baseman Albert Pujols cut off the throw from right field and held up on throwing to the plate where he seemingly had no play on Morgan. When Pujols held the ball, Anderson stepped out of the base line toward first base.
Instead of simply scoring the run, Morgan stepped out of the base path into fair territory, threw an elbow into Anderson and in the process completely missed stepping on home plate.
Another National in the on-deck area grabbed Morgan and pushed him back so Morgan would return and touch home. Morgan was called out on the basis of interference because another National touched him before the run had scored.
This was obviously a stupid play by Morgan, and one can easily see why even Nationals’ manager Jim Riggleman criticized Morgan afterward.
You don’t give up a run so you can go out of your way (and the base path) to hit a fielder who doesn’t even have the ball.
In yesterday’s game between the Marlins and the Nationals, Morgan was involved in another collision, and again it cost the Nationals a run.
Morgan’s decision to hit Marlins’ rookie catcher Brett Hayes and try to knock the ball loose was a stupid play, because Morgan probably would have scored if he had slid into home plate.
In my mind, however, it was not a dirty play like Morgan’s elbow to Bryan Anderson on Saturday. The Marlins and Nats were tied 0-0 in the 10th inning when Morgan tried to score on an infield grounder.
It was going to be a close play at the plate. Hayes caught the ball on the third base side of the plate, and (the slow motion replay shows) just had time to set himself before Morgan barreled into him. Hayes injured his shoulder on the play, but he held onto the ball and made the out.
A base runner absolutely has the right in those circumstances to run into the catcher, who is standing in the base path, to try to knock the ball loose if the runner thinks it gives him the best chance to score.
The game was on the line, and the professional game is about winning first, second and last. Base runners are paid to score runs, pure and simple.
It is a split second decision, and in hindsight you can say that Morgan made the wrong decision in terms of scoring the run. It’s also a shame Hayes was hurt on the play.
However, hard, clean plays like that are part of the game, unless you advocate changing the rules to provide that catchers can never be in the base paths even when they have the ball in their hands.
I think catchers should be barred from setting up in the base path before they have received the throw from another fielder, not that catchers shouldn’t be able to move into the base path once the ball is actually in their hands.
Interestingly, no one on the Nationals had anything negative to say about Morgan’s collision with Hayes.
As I’m sure you know, there was a bench-clearing brawl in today’s Marlins-Nationals game. Chris Volstad threw one behind Morgan’s back, and Morgan charged the mound.
However, there was more to today’s brawl than the Marlins trying to get back solely because of the Morgan-Hayes collision.
Morgan had stolen a couple of bases in the game even though the Nationals were down by 10 runs (I can kind of see why it’s considered bad form to steal bases when your team is up by 10, but I don’t think it makes any sense to consider it unsportsmanlike to steal bases when your team is losing big—if anything, the base stealer is doing the team with the big lead a favor, since the cost of getting caught stealing is much greater than the value of a stolen base when the stealer’s team is that far behind).
However, some ballplayers are offended by base-stealing anytime the game is a blowout one way or the other.
I’m also certain that the Marlins knew all about the Morgan-Anderson collision, which put the Morgan-Hayes collision in a different light.
A lot of baseball people watch SportsCenter or go to MLB.com, because they want to know what their competitors are doing. It’s their livelihood, after all.
Finally, the brawl happened because Morgan decided to charge the mound even though he hadn’t actually been hit with the pitch.
The totality of the past week’s events don’t cast Morgan in a very favorable light, and I think you can be fairly certain that Tony La Russa and the Cardinals won’t forget the Morgan-Anderson collision between now and the next time the Cardinals and Marlins play each other.
However, the Marlins have probably gotten Morgan out of their system, particularly after the big shot first baseman Gaby Sanchez gave Morgan after Morgan threw a punch at Volstad during today’s brawl.