Buster Posey: Occupation hazard

Ron KaplanContributor IMay 27, 2011

San Francisco Giants’ star catcher Buster Posey was severely injured on a collision at the plate with Scott Cousins of the Florida Marlins on Wednesday.

By all accounts it was clean play, the kind that’s been a part of the game since its inception. The runner’s job is to try to score at all costs while the catcher is the last means of defense. The result, in this case, is most unfortunate; Posey’s left fibula was broken and he sustain ligament damage in his ankle. Surgery will be required but some hope he’ll actually be back before the end of the season (such projections are almost always overly optimistic).

Yes, he was in a “vulnerable” position, but he set himself up that way. It’s not like a wide receiver, up in the air and totally at the mercy of the defensive backs.

I’m not linking to any video; the still shot is gruesome enough.

What’s unusual in this case is the hue and cry for “reform” when it comes to home plate collisions. And who made the loudest noise? Posey’s manager, Bruce Bochy, himself a former catcher, who must now figure out how to adjust the Giants’ lineup without his 2010 Rookie of the Year/post-season hero? MLB commissioner Bud Selig? Joe Torre, head of baseball’s on-field operations? No, it was Posey’s agent, Jeff Berry, who says the rules have to be changed to protect catchers from potential injury.

From ESPN.com:

… Berry, said Thursday morning he reached out to Joe Torre, leader of on-field operations for Major League Baseball, and raised the idea of changing the rules regarding plays at the plate. He also said he spoke with the players’ union about the play.

“You leave players way too vulnerable,” Berry said. “I can tell you Major League Baseball is less than it was before [Posey's injury]. It’s stupid. I don’t know if this ends up leading to a rule change, but it should. The guy [at the plate] is too exposed.

“If you go helmet to helmet in the NFL, it’s a $100,000 fine, but in baseball, you have a situation in which runners are [slamming into] fielders. It’s brutal. It’s borderline shocking. It just stinks for baseball.”

Now, I’m sure Berry is genuinely concerned with Posey’s health and well-being. But quite frankly, the first thing that came to my cynical mind was that he was worried about his meal ticket client. Although you can never really tell about such things (how many ROYs have flamed out within a few years of winning the award? Anybody remember “Super Joe” Charboneau?), the potential is there for a major payday and commiserate agent’s commission, not to mention endorsements, etc. I’m just sayin’…

The sports pundits jumped on this right away. (Would they be so strident in their call for rule changes if this had happened to Giant’s backup catcher Eli Whiteside?) The ex-players analysts for the MLB Network or ESPN’s Baseball Tonight I’ve heard don’t rule changes are necessary. It’s part of the game, they say.

At some point soon some sabermetrician will come up with a chart of how many catchers of the thousands to man that position over the years have been severely injured, with additional notation as to whether they were first string, all-star, MVP, etc. I’m guessing it’s a relatively small percentage. Of course, that’s small comfort to those who were on the receiving end…

So what does Berry expect MLB to change? Must the runner slide or give himself up, as in my former “open” softball league? Does he want a “runner’s plate,” set off a few feet from the regular home plate, as in my current 50-and-over league?

According to the ESPN piece, Posey had previously “shaken off those remarks [suggesting he play a less taxing position], saying he was born to play catcher and loves his position.”

You plays your game and you takes your chances.

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