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Buster and the Plight of Catchers Exposed

May 27, 2011

Earlier this week, Giants star catcher and reigning Rookie of the Year Buster Posey suffered a horrific injury after he was run over (no other way to put it) by Marlins pinchhitter Scott Cousins in a 12th-inning play at the plate (video). Cousins scored and the Marlins ended up winning 7-6 but Posey ended up with a broken fibula and ligament damage in his ankle. He is likely out for the rest of the season. Everybody in baseball agrees that it was a clean play. In the wake of the injury, Bay Area sportswriters are wondering whether the rules should be changed to protect catchers and prevent baserunners from using the 90-foot windup to clobber them. Some in the Giants organization think the rules need to be changed, including Posey himself.

Arguments in favor of changing say that catchers are defenseless and that runners should have to slide around the catcher if they are able. Arguments against changing say that home plate collisions are part of baseball and a rule forcing runners to avoid the catcher at times would be unworkable. Clearly, if runners aren’t going to be allowed to run catchers over, catchers shouldn’t be allowed to block the plate. Otherwise, a situation would be created where catchers could leave a tiny bit of the plate open and, when they got hit, could argue that it was against the rules. In that situation or other situations at the plate, the umpire would be left with a difficult decision that would be hard to make non-arbitrarily.

The reasonable choice, then, is between treating home plate as it has been treated traditionally and treating it like just another base. Treating it traditionally as its appeal: plays at the plate are exciting and they’re “part of baseball,” a sentiment expressed by many including Nate Schierholtz said after demolishing China’s catcher in the 2008 Olympics (video – he really lays him out). Just because things are exciting doesn’t mean that they should be allowed. Baseball would be more exciting if fielders could peg runners to get them out but that’s not allowed. Similarly, just because something has been allowed in the past doesn’t mean it should be allowed now. Runners used to slide into second base with their cleats up to spike the second baseman. Now that’s not allowed.

To me, it would be better for baseball and fairer to catchers if home were treated like any other base. Sure, home plate collisions are exciting, but any Giants fan will tell you that the rest of the season will not be as exciting without Posey in the lineup. There’s nothing positive about injuries. Furthermore, the current rules do place catchers in a defenseless position that shouldn’t be expected of them. Home plate collisions can be just like the head-to-head collisions that the NFL is currently trying to minimize: the catcher is looking elsewhere and the runner has a full head of steam. The runner is ostensibly trying to the catcher to drop the ball but often the best way to do that is to deliver a dangerous hit. The possibility for injury is unacceptably high. If home plate were like the other bases, there would still be close, exciting plays at the plate, perhaps not as exciting as before but with a much lesser chance of injury.

While I’d miss the thrill that comes with watching a runner barrel down from third, I’d say that the MLB should change the rule.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jason Crupper permalink
    June 9, 2011 4:10 pm

    Third base was no different from the plate when Polanco blocked it. I’m a Phillies fan, but I see things objectively, and I know the Phillies stink. The Phillies didn’t really have a play at third. Somebody on the Dodgers hit into a ground out with a runner at first, and probably a hit and run situation. After the batter runner was retired, the first baseman suddenly noticed that the baserunner was barreling towards third and made a quick throw. It was amazing that the runner could advance two bases on a ground out, but he almost did, and he would have if the fielder were not allowed to block the base. It was exciting to watch the play, and if my team had made the unlikely swipe tag, I would have been happy for them. But Polanco blocked the base as if it were the plate. Fortunately, the runner was diving lightly, and between hand and leg only slight contact occurred. That move looked really stupid and illegal, and it spoiled the play for me. I was convinced the runner was safe and the umpire wrong, until I noticed in the third replay that the runner’s hands were prevented from tagging the base. Polanco could have been injured with spiked shows. I really think the catcher or any other fielder should not be allowed to set up in the way of the runner before he even has the ball, because even though the ball will arrive in time, his move is deliberate and calculated and has only the purpose of preventing the runner from beating the tag. It has nothing to do with the act of tagging itself, and should be called obstruction. It also slows the runner down and forces him to change his strategy, sometimes with tragic results. The fielder should not be allowed to cut in with his thighs at the last minute, because even though he has the ball, his glove is stretched in a different direction and he is not yet in the act of tagging. The thigh movement is deliberate and calculated at obstructing the runner, and should be illegal. Just because he is in the act of fielding does not give him absolute license to break up the run, and it is no different than a fielder deliberately tripping the batter runner while fielding a bunt down the first base line. The only thing that should be allowed to get in the way is the glove with the ball in it.

    When I look at the Cousins move, it does look like Posey went out of his way. Had Cousins barreled with the same force but straight instead of hooking left, the play would have been clean. Technically, Cousins does not leave the baseline, since the feet are bound for the plate. From some angles, it looks like Posey was trying to block a slide. I don’t think Posey played the plate just right. The throw had beaten the runner by six feet, and a good swipe tag would have been effective. It wasn’t necessary to block the plate at all. Had Posey been standing, he might have even been able to field the throw on the fly.

    I think the must slide rule would disadvantage the runner and make plays at the plate too routine and predictable, and it would be a stupid rule. The runner should be allowed to go in flying, but just not straight at the catcher.

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