With the recent injury to San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey, Major League Baseball is taking a good look at a possible rule change involving collisions between runners and catchers at home plate.
Technically, the catcher is not supposed to block home plate unless he has the ball, but as Posey's collision showed, that rule is not religiously followed (well, I doubt the Pope cares about baseball, but that's a different story for a different article).
Giants general manager Brian Sabean's recent words against Scott Cousins of the Florida Marlins, though extremely harsh, do convey some of the sentiment around the league regarding collisions at the plate.
Special assistant to the league, Joe Torre, plans to make a call to Sabean to discuss the matter. That proves that MLB does consider this issue to hold some weight—something Posey's left leg won't be doing any time soon.
So, with controversy swirling, let's take a look at the three worst collisions in major league history. I'm not saying there needs to be a change in the rules, but these hits were brutal. Prepare yourself.
This play from a late 2007 game between the Giants and Cincinnati Reds shows that plays at the plate do not have to result in injury to be dangerous or uncalled for.
Alfonzo held on for the out and the Giants won the game, but it's more than a little surprising that he was not injured by the 6'6", 260-pound Adam Dunn.
Isn't it interesting that Dunn's attempt to dislodge the ball from Alfonzo was more than a little unsportsmanlike? There was no injury on the play, so no one made a big deal about the play. However, these are the kind of plays that can lead to long-term health problems for catchers.
Take a look.
Dempsey went on to coaching after his playing career ended.
Dempsey knew a play at the plate was coming, but he did not look towards Jackson. That's a pretty difficult thing to do considering Jackson was concurrently playing for the Los Angeles Raiders of the NFL. Still, he focused on left-hander Scott Bailes, who fielded a weak chopper near the mound and fired the ball home.
Bailes' throw sailed a bit high, and it forced Dempsey to reach farther across the baseline than he had hoped for. As a result, his left side opened up toward the fast and powerful Jackson, who had run a record time of 4.12 seconds in the 40-yard dash (a record which still stands today). The throw put Dempsey in a horrible position to take the force of the hit.
Jackson came in low and hard, knocking Dempsey's feet out from under him.
Dempsey then got caught in Jackson's neck after he tried to transfer the ball from his glove to his right hand. He was already too late making the exchange, and the attempted switch only made things worse for the catcher.
In Dempsey's words: "When his shoulder came by, somehow it just came so quick and bent my thumb back, snapped my thumb in the joint and put it back by my wrist."
His thumb hanging there, the impact with Jackson flung Dempsey backward about 10 feet. Amazingly, Dempsey broke only that thumb, but he spent six weeks on the disabled list. He retired five years later—albeit after a 23-year career.
"I started to think how lucky I was that I only broke my thumb," Dempsey said. "Had I gotten the ball in time and done what I normally do—get down on both knees and block the plate from the runner—as fast as [Jackson] was running and as big as he was, he probably would've either separated or broke my shoulder, or even possibly broke my neck."
This is by far the most famous home plate collision of all time. Ray Fosse, another former Indians catcher, fell victim to Charlie Hustle...in the meaningless All-Star Game of all places.
It was the 12th inning—yes, the All-Star Game used to not end in ties in the 11th—when Chicago Cubs outfielder Jim Hickman lined a single to center field. Royals outfielder Amos Otis grabbed the ball and heaved it towards home plate. The rest is history.
The collision is best viewed rather than explained (go to the 1:30 mark). Clean hit? Maybe. Necessary in the All-Star Game? Hardly. The game didn't even decide home-field advantage in the World Series like it does now.
"What bothers me a little is that the play kind of fed into the whole 'Charlie Hustle' thing, and it could have been pretty easily avoided," Fosse said in a recent interview with MLB. "I've heard Pete say he had no choice to do what he did, but I completely disagree."
Like Posey, Fosse was an extremely promising offensive catcher. He set career-highs during that 1970 season in batting average (.307), runs scored (62) and home runs (18). The All-Star Game in Cincinnati was his first at age 23.
Because of the hit, Fosse completed his career as just a two-time All-Star, and he retired prematurely at age 32. Thirty-six years later, the shoulder still gives Fosse trouble.
The similarities between Fosse and Posey really are eerie. Posey was coming off a Rookie of the Year campaign in which he hit .305 with 18 home runs and 58 runs scored. Let's just hope Posey can avoid the same fate as his injured predecessor.