It's already happened in basketball.
It's currently happening in football.
Could baseball be the next sport to make drastic changes in its rules in order to limit the physicality of the sport?
The answer is yes if Jeff Berry, the agent for San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey, has anything to say about it.
Thursday morning, just hours after Posey suffered a broken leg bone and torn ligaments in his ankle in a collision at home plate, Berry called for Major League Baseball to make changes in its rules regarding plays at the plate:
"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. I'm going to call Major League Baseball and put this on the radar. Because it's just wrong."
Mr. Berry's sentiments may be accurate and understandable, but his conclusion is a dangerous proposition for Major League Baseball. As a former catcher, throughout my college career and one season of international baseball, I am scared of the slippery slope that will be caused if Major League Baseball were to listen to Mr. Berry's complaint.
Baseball is not a physically violent sport. There is less body contact than in any of the major American sports. However, it is a grueling competition. Baseball players need to keep themselves mentally and physically fit over 162 games, the longest season by far. They have to keep themselves focused in a sport that rewards below average success rates, where getting a hit in 30 percent of your at-bats makes you an All-Star. Even without the contact, baseball brings out a certain toughness in an athlete.
Trying to ban plays that are a result of two men doing everything they can to help their team win a game cannot, in my opinion, have a positive overall effect on the game.
As a catcher, I took great pride in being involved in plays at the plate. It was a moment that I, and many of my peers, relished. In college, we used to have defensive drills with baserunners in place that allowed for the opportunity for outfielders to throw runners out at home. This consequently led to plays where I was being unloaded on by an oncoming runner. But these plays were crucial to the outcome of a game. In a sport where one run decides many contests, sacrificing yourself to protect, or earn, that win is an honor.
Now, we have media swarming to the potential controversy and doing their best to amplify it. ESPN announcers are repeatedly referring to Posey's collision as "vicious" or "brutal." The result is taking a play that has been a part of baseball for generations and attempting to vilify it and make it ugly.
Is there danger involved? Sure, on occasions when a catcher isn't far enough up the line, doesn't turn his head in time or drops the ball. But there is danger involved in outfielders leaping into the outfield fence. There is danger in a shortstop coming across second to turn a double play. There is danger in an infielder and an outfielder rushing to catch the same bleeding line drive.
Are we not going to allow runners to slide into second on double plays because they might hurt a fielder? Are balls that are falling between outfielders going to be ruled automatic outs so that players don't run into each other? Are pitchers going to be fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for hitting a player even if there is no intent behind it?
These are aspects of the game that every baseball player understands when they step onto the field. If we begin to limit all aspects of the game where a player could get hurt, we're going to drastically change the game—and not for the better.
Take football as an example. In an effort to keep quarterbacks safe, the NFL started penalizing and fining players for any hit to a quarterback's helmet or any hit where it seemed like the quarterback was being driven into the ground. The rationale was logical, but what happened?
Players started getting penalties for the slightest finger tap onto the head of a quarterback, changing outcomes of entire games over non-hits. It drastically changed the way the game was played and was met with negative reactions from fans.
Nobody wanted to see a quarterback hurt, but they rejected a rule that so clearly changed the way athletes performed, and now the NFL has amended the rule.
Basketball disallowed hand checking on defense because it thought that players were being too physical. Now teams score at will, and finding a player who plays hard defense is as hard as finding one of Willy Wonka's Golden Tickets.
If we keep creating rule changes that limit the physical contact in sports, you're going to see a decline in the competitive fire of all sports. It's no coincidence that basketball rivalries flourished when the Heat and Knicks were pushing each other around the court or the Lakers and Celtics were getting into physical fights during games.
Nobody wants players to get injured. Nobody wants fights. But as athletes and fans, what we do want is the opportunity to play, or see a sport be played, competitively to the utmost of our ability without limitation to the ways in which we are allowed to do so. Creating less physical conduct will create less physical determination, which will create less excitement during games. It sucks energy out of a sport.
As an athlete, you realize that injuries are part of the game. When you step onto the field or the court, you know the rules and you know the possibilities. Watching somebody get hurt is never a pleasant experience, but we shouldn't be reaching a level in our culture where any injury is a rationale for making drastic changes. Sometimes injuries just happen. We can't fix every problem.
If we try to, what will our sports look like in the future?