What is it about collisions at home plate that have people so worked up?
As long as the game has been played, there have been collisions between runners trying to score and the catcher trying to record the out. But now, there is a nationwide urge to take away this part of the game. Even Major League Baseball is trying to eliminate them from the game.
Monday night I saw a collision in a high school game. To me, the runner appeared to run right through the catcher with no regard. But, the catcher was completely blocking the path to the plate. To add onto the issue, the catcher did not have the ball while he was blocking the plate. So, the runner had nowhere to go with a catcher twice his size blocking the plate without the ball.
I see two things that could have happened. The runner could have come to a dead stop (he was running full bore from second base) or he could run over the catcher. The runner chose the later and that’s when the controversy started.
According to the base runner’s coach, Daryl Zessin, the catcher is not allowed to block the plate without the ball.
“That was one thing that was emphasized in the MSHSAA (Missouri State High School Activities Association) rules this year,” Zessin said following his team’s game on Monday night. “The umpires were going to be adamant that the catchers cannot block the plate if they do not have the ball. That is basically what happened.
“The throw was coming in and the catcher was standing right there in front of the plate,” the coach continued. “Austin (Kirby) really didn’t have anywhere to go. The ball hit the front lip and actually bounced over the whole area and (Kirby) ran into (Noah Lynch). He was trying to get to the plate. It is what it is. The umpires called him safe because of obstruction of the catcher to the plate.”
The umpires did not stick around to talk after the game. So, being a good sports junkie, I got a hold of a friend from high school who is an umpire in the state of Washington.
According to my friend, who wanted to remain nameless, the rulebook book has two views on the play. The first would be obstruction by the catcher for blocking the base runner’s path to the plate without possession of the ball. The second would malicious contact by the base runner for purposefully running into the catcher. Of those two rules, malicious contact would supercede the obstruction call and the base runner should be called out and ejected.
However, that did not happen Monday night. Instead, the umpires ruled the catcher was blocking the plate without the ball, or to put it simply, obstruction. The run counted and the runner remained in the game.
I can understand wanting to make sure players are safe on both sides of the game, offensively and defensively. Have you seen the amount of equipment and hardware players wear in today’s game? But making a rule that changes the way the game is played is not the way to go.
Over the past several years, there have been more than a handful of players (catchers) injured in a collision at home plate at the Major League level. The most notable of them was Buster Posey in 2011. Just days after the Posey injury, Humberto Quintero of the Astros was taken out in a collision, but that incident did not get near the publicity that Posey did.
The 2012 season was particularly rough for catchers. Former Cardinal Ty Wigginton, then with the Phillies, took out Mets catcher Josh Thole in 2012. Thole received a concussion. Nationals catcher Sandy Leon was also involved in a 2012 collision. Devin Mesoraco was also lost to concussion symptoms in 2012 due to a collision at home plate. Even Yadier Molina was involved in a collision during the 2012 season (against the Pirates).
In 2010, Bobby Wilson of the Angels was knocked out with a concussion after a collision. Brian McCann of the Braves was hurt during a 2006 collision. The year before, another Braves backstop took a hit and recieved a concussion. Gary Bennett tore his MCL in 2003.
Other catchers to be involved in collisions included Jason Kendal (2010), Joe Mauer (2010), Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez (2009 and 1998), Gerald Laird (2010 and 2009), Jason Varitek (2008), Victor Martinez (2005), and Jorge Posada (2005).
Posada’s 2005 collision was with Varitek, where one catcher barreled into another catcher.
In 1998, former Braves reliever John Rocker collided with Padres backstop Carlos Hernandez.
But, aside from the new injuries, nothing was done about them in the past. Remember the 1970 All Star Game? Pete Rose ran into Ray Fosse like an out of control freight train. In 1920, Hall of Famer Ty Cobb went spikes first into a catcher whom he had a disagreement with.
Nothing was said or made of it like in today’s society. An old school baseball aficionado would even applaud it as “hard-nosed” baseball.
In fact, most of today’s issues arose after the Giants lost Posey, the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year. If it had been any other “no-name catcher” we wouldn’t be having this discussion now.
I am not advocating the blatant flat out running over and trying to ruin a player’s career. But, when a catcher blocks the plate and doesn’t have the ball, he has to expect a collision. It is not the nature of a player to just come to a complete stop and let themselves be tagged out when running at full force. The player is trying to score a run to help his team win.
In the case of what I saw Monday night, I see both sides. To me, the player did look like he intended to take out the catcher. But, there was nowhere for the base runner to go. His path was blocked and the catcher did not have the ball.  So the way I see it, he had every right to clear the path on his own.
The game is not broken, so lets quit trying to fix it and leave it as it is. If a catcher does not want to take a hit, learn to apply the sweep tag or play a different position.
And just so you know, my 8-year-old son is big into baseball and likes to catch. I will not stand in his way nor will I teach him to be a pansy. He will learn to block the plate if he has the ball, to take the hit, and hold onto the ball to record the out.