When tradition collides with safety

Feb. 27, 2014 @ 08:57 AM

It is no secret that I’m an “old school” kind of guy when it comes to sports, particularly baseball. I normally hold the traditions of America’s pastime on par with the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail. But not all baseball traditions are holy, and purists like me need to learn to let go of them.

One such tradition is home plate collisions between catchers and base runners. I applaud MLB’s recent decision to ban them. The move was long overdue.

Collisions add nothing to the game, except for long term injuries and bad blood between clubs. It’s not worth it for one run in one game out of a 162.

Some fans may cry foul, longing for the good ol’ days of Pete Rose and Ray Fosse, but were those days really that good? I say no.

I’m all for hustle and players giving their all, 100 percent of the time. That’s what we pay to see, but running over a catcher does not equate hustle. Players can still hustle with a hook slide or other means of avoiding the tag. I’ve seen that kind of hustle displayed on high school and college diamonds for years where collisions have been banned.

Surely Major Leaguers can do something high school and college kids already do on a daily basis. MLB players will adjust to the new rule. 

One day, running into the catcher will be viewed as archaic, alongside the 19th century “one-bounce rule”, which allowed an outfielder to field the ball on one bounce and still record an out. Do you see legions of baseball fans yearning for that or similar rules, such as recording an out by hitting a player in the back with the ball? No, you don’t.

The only places for these rules are on a display in Cooperstown or in a Ken Burns documentary. In a few years, home plate collisions will be there too and the game will be better for it. If you want to see collisions, go watch NASCAR.

Some critics claim that the new rule will create a need for umpires to make judgment calls. With instant replay set to ruin baseball by stripping away most judgment calls this season, adding this one will only help the game. Now managers have a reason to come charging out of the dugout again. They can still kick dirt, throw hats, and have a Jim Boeheim-esque meltdown. In fact, I’d love to see Bobby Cox come out of retirement just to argue the first time the rule comes into play against the Braves.

Some fans say the new rule is too confusing. The new rule (7.13) states: “A runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate). A runner violating the rule shall be declared out, even if the fielder drops the ball.”  Compare that to the infield fly rule, which is a full six paragraphs, and that’s just the condensed version. I ask, which is more complicated?

So, three cheers to MLB for making the right call on this one. By tossing out home plate collisions, you have improved the game and made it safer. That’s something even an “old school guy” can appreciate.