Yesterday, in the midst of an otherwise uneventful Winter Meetings, baseball made the biggest announcement of the offseason. Sandy Alderson, GM of the Mets and chairman of baseball’s Rules Committee, in front of a crowd of baseball insiders gathered at Orlando, Florida’s Swan and Dolphin Resort, announced, “We will eliminate home-plate collisions.” This is unquestionably a move forward for America’s most tradition-based game.
BaseballNation, the wonderful baseball site at SBNation run by Rob Neyer and Grant Brisbee, has a recurring segment on collisions at home plate entitled, “Home Plate Collisions are Stupid and You Should Feel Bad About Yourself if You Disagree.” While the title is tongue-and-cheek (and perhaps a bit extreme), the articles raise a powerful question; what possible arguments can you make in favor of keeping these collisions that don’t sound completely ridiculous?
The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo attempts to make such arguments. Cafardo’s article, “Is Major League Baseball Going too Far by Banning Home Plate Collisions,” starts off like this:
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — One of the game’s biggest stars — Buster Posey — suffered a nearly career-ending knee injury as a result of a collision with then-Marlins outfielder Scott Cousins in May of 2011, therefore we must protect catchers?
Baseball is seeking to ban collisions that have happened since Abner Doubleday invented baseball. What are we doing here?
This is an argument we see from a lot of self-titled baseball traditionalists; since it’s been around forever, it has to stay around. Leaving aside the fact that Alexander Cartwright invented baseball, there are so many flaws with this line of thinking. In Cartwright’s version of baseball, you were allowed to peg the baseball at baserunners to record an out. Bases were wooden rods in the ground (as seen in this recreation), so sliding into them put ankles in danger. But both of these rules, on the books in the time of “Doubleday,” have long since been retired. Baseball changes rules all of the time, often in the interest of player safety.
This isn’t football, in which every play is a collision. You get a severe home plate collision once in a while, and although MLB estimates that 50 percent of its concussions come from collisions at the plate, they also are the result of batters being hit with pitches, catchers taking foul balls off the mask, and other collisions.
How far are we going to take this?
David Ross and Alex Avila suffered concussions as the result of foul balls off their masks during the 2013 season. Are we banning foul balls soon?
Stop with the strawman, false equivalency, slippery slope argument. Of course concussions come from places other than home-plate collisions. Does that mean we shouldn’t attempt to remove what even Cafardo admits is the biggest source of them? Of course not.
An outfielder throwing to the plate, a runner barreling around third, and ball and runner coming to the plate at the same time is one of the most exciting plays in baseball. Does the catcher hold on to the ball after the collision, or does he drop it, with the runner safe?
This is sport. This is athleticism.
And now we’re taking it away?
I don’t know about Nick Cafardo, but personally, I don’t watch baseball for the home-plate collisions. If all I cared about was watching two huge men run into each other at full speed, I would change the channel and watch football. Baseball is so much more than feats of sheer athleticism; removing this one aspect of the game in order to make it safer will not alter its character. If you’re watching baseball purely for the home plate collisions, you’re watching the wrong sport.
Cafardo then proceeds to do some actual journalism, interviewing major league managers, many of them former major league catchers, some of whom are on board with the change, some of whom have reservations. But then he closes the article with this:
It sounds as if runners and catchers will have to change what their instincts tell them they should do and what they’ve been taught do for many, many moons.
[Terry] Francona believes this may cause a whole other set of problems — possible injuries for the baserunner.
He’s right. Some things are better left alone.
This gets to the core of the argument against banning home plate collisions — fear of change. The fear that any small alteration to the National Pastime will, like a butterfly flapping its’ wings, create a ripple effect whereby we wake up one morning to discover that baseball no longer baseball, and bugs are 20-feet tall. These people see baseball as a constant, unchanging force, and I will admit that one of the things that drew me to baseball is the idea that as the whole world changes around it, baseball stays the same. The problem is, this has never been the case. Baseball is constantly in flux, and that’s a good thing. You know what a synonym for the word constant is? Stagnant. The way baseball avoids stagnation, and stays vibrant and relevant, is by changing with the times. Banning concussions keeps baseball well ahead of its competition (read: football) in player safety, keeping not only the players healthy, but the game itself. To borrow a phrase, “home plate collisions are stupid, and you should feel bad about yourself if you disagree.”