A WISE STEP (BACK) TO TAKE
Major League Baseball took a step in the right direction yesterday by taking a step back at home plate. Spurred by growing concerns over the safety of the players, Major League Baseball rules committee chairman Sandy Alderson, the general manager of the New York Mets, announced at the winter meetings in Florida yesterday plans to eliminate home plate collisions.
While it’s hoped the new rule will go into effect next season, it’s more likely the approval process will keep it on hold until 2015. Wording of the rules change still has to be worked out and it won’t go to the owners for approval until their meetings in Arizona in mid January. If it’s approved by the owners it will then go to the union for it’s perusal and recommendation to the players, who would then have to vote on it. The umpires union will have to go through the same approval process, for the onus the on field interpretation will put on them.
However the proposal is worded, the basic premise will do away with the practice of players bowling over a catcher who is already in possession of the ball in an effort to jar the ball loose, while also making it a rules violation for catchers to block the plate before they are in possession of the ball, requiring that they leave a clear path for the runner. It will be up to the umpires to consider the timing and determine if a collision could have been avoided.
The intent behind the rule is clear, to better insure the safety of the players and to avoid concussions, concerns that weren’t prevalent in Major League Baseball in 1970, when Pete Rose viciously bowled over Indians catcher Ray Fosse in the All Star Game, breaking and dislocating Fosse’s collar bone, which failed to heal properly, greatly diminishing and shortening a once promising career. At the time Rose heard some criticism for playing so aggressively in an All Star Game, but, for the most part, “Charlie Hustle” was praised for his determination to play every game, any game, one way, at full speed. Of course, we didn’t know then what we know now.
Concussions in baseball aren’t as rampant as they are in football to be sure, and it’s hard to find examples of the later life effects of concussions in catchers, many of whom, like Joe Torre, Tim McCarver and Yogi Berra, went on to become successful managers and articulate spokesmen for the game. But concussions are just one area of concern with the homeplate collisions, overall players safety, as in the case of Ray Fosse, has to be considered.
Take out slides at the bases have long been a staple of the game and they also put both participants in jeopardy, particularly the defensive player attempting to make the play at the base and continuing, unprotected, into the throwing motion, but the objective is to disrupt the rhythm of the player, not to forcibly collide with him. Any runner who goes out of his way to collide with a player making a play at a base is called out.
The violent nature of the collision at home plate can no longer be ignored, not in the face of the medical knowledge we have today. This step away from home plate is one Major League Baseball is wise to take.
With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.