Major League Baseball plans to ban home-plate collisions, either in 2014 or 2015, and traditionalists are outraged. Of course, they also were outraged at the arrival of the catcher’s mask and the batting helmet and probably netted screens behind home plate.
Now, we wouldn’t imagine playing a ballgame without them. So the question becomes, not why should home plate collisions be outlawed. But why were they ever allowed in the first place?
Think about it. We’ve long gone past allowing first basemen to be spiked by hitters trying to leg out a hit. We allow runners headed to second base to slide into fielders, but slide is the operative word. And rarely is there any kind of collision at third base.
But home plate? It’s a war zone. Catchers block the plate even without the ball, which always has been against the rules. Runners barrel into catchers like hockey players check into the boards.
Baseball is not a physical contact sport. It’s a game of skill. Ever wonder why so many bench-clearing brawls in baseball? Baseball players are letting off steam. There are scant few opportunities to do so in the field of play.
And that’s how it ought to be. To have a skirting of the rules and maintain a physical element into the game, just for tradition sake, well, that makes no sense. Not from a competitive standpoint, not from a financial standpoint.
While Pete Rose — surprise, surprise — bemoaned the pending rule change, his old Reds teammate, Johnny Bench, saluted the move. “thank you for the new collision rule!” Bench tweeted. “I addressed this with MLB after (Buster) Posey was nailed. It’s taken too long!”
Later, Bench tweeted, “The collision I had in 75 with Gary Matthews in April crushed the AC joint and I had 6 cortisone shots every 3 weeks.”
Catchers have a tough enough physical task. The constant wear on their knees. The constant throwing from difficult positions. Their health is shaky enough without the occasional collision more worthy of the gridiron than the diamond.
Home-plate collisions are a part of baseball tradition. But they shouldn’t be. And hopefully soon, they won’t be.