Home Plate Collisions

Another argument is that Posey and all catchers understand the risk when they sign up to play catcher. It’s notoriously demanding behind the plate, and catchers know what they’re getting themselves into. It sounds good on the surface. Well, what do you think about factory workers? Back at the beginning of the century, they understood the risks of working in Industrial Revolution factories, but society still realized the conditions were too dangerous and changed the situation. Yes, they understand the risks, but that doesn’t mean they should be there to begin with. Yes, if I had the chance to make millions as a catcher, I would do it, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t prefer to do it without getting crushed at home plate.

I also saw this argument, but I don’t think it was common. Catchers have pads and can withstand being hit. Just in case you believe this, yes, catchers have pads, but they aren’t great. They’re only somewhat helpful against half-pound leather projectiles, but that’s usually one after the ball has hit the ground. They don’t work against 200+ pound athletes barreling into you. Pads don’t always work well enough in football, and catcher pads are much worse at protecting the human body.

The next argument is what you would have the runner do instead. Slide around, of course. Players only bowl into home because they can. It isn’t allowed at first or third, and it’s only marginally allowed at second. But players don’t run through the defenders there. If there was a rule that took away the option to bowl over the catcher at home, runners wouldn’t even think about doing it. They would slide. Yes, I realize that guys like Josh Hamilton can get hurt when catchers fall on them trying to protect the plate, but we can also make adjustments to how the catcher should act—ie. no falling down unless it’s to receive the ball somehow (most other position players won’t drop to a knee to block the base, and just because catchers have pads doesn’t mean they should be able to use them like that). Look, players and coaches have to make the decision on whether or not they should go home, and having to slide is just another thing to take into account, which they pretty much already do.

The next argument was that runners, in fear the catcher will hit them, they prepare and hit the catcher. Let’s think about that for a moment. Why would the catcher hit them or prepare to do so? Because the runner is allowed to hit them. They gear up for it just like the runners do it. If the play is made illegal (from either runner or catcher), then no one is gearing up for contact. There’s no reason for the catcher or runner to fear getting hit.

I understand the excitement over plays at the plate. Runs are crucial, and we want to know that our player is doing his best to score or prevent the run. For whatever reason, we think that means contact and collisions. I guess it’s because it’s a sacrifice of the body to do so, but why is it necessary for either player to do so? Yes, it’s a dangerous play regardless, but those who would change the rules should change it in favor of the runner and the catcher. The runner cannot run into the catcher. The catcher cannot contact the runner with anything other than his glove, and he cannot drop his knee down to block the plate (those knee pads can be dangerous, and the catcher shouldn’t be throwing his weight around anymore than any other player at another base). Home plate collisions are dangerous, and they are unnecessarily so. I’d rather see Posey or Hamilton for the entire season than the occasional tackle at home plate.

18 thoughts on “Home Plate Collisions

  1. forged

    However, how many teams would want a catcher that doesn't block the plate when a runner is trying to score? I could easily see teams not really desiring a catcher known to not block the plate due to the risk of injury.

    • Mark Smith

      Yep.

  2. Mark Smith

    Yeah, I tried to stay away from the actual incident. I don't know that either player did something they weren't supposed to.

    I'm not sure that's a great argument, though I understand what you're saying. Both players don't always get a choice, and you can't expect the catcher to abandon home plate. If it's a choice between saving the run or just a chance that he gets hurt, the catcher's going to protect the plate, not himself. Second basemen also have an "understanding" with umpires that still allow them to get the out without touching the base. No such thing exists at the plate. The point is that they shouldn't have to fear getting hurt.

    • I guess what I'm trying to say is that when the plate is blocked properly, the chance of injury for either player is pretty low. I'm looking, but I haven't found an example of when a catcher is properly blocking the plate on the 3rd base side of the plate, either he or the runner gets seriously injured in the collision. Any injury I can think of comes when both players are moving towards home, and their is an awkward collision and bodies get twisted in unnatural ways. I liken it a bit to when you see a player who hurts their foot running through first base because they didn't step on the bag properly, if the players have the correct technique then the risk of injury is low.

      • Mark Smith

        What do you consider "properly blocking the plate"?

        • Properly blocking the plate as I was taught was to be on the third base side of the plate while essentially stradling the foul line. also Tom Verducci mentions the Posey situation with the argument that the rule should either allow collisions, or not allow collisions. He feels there should not be any sort of conditions saying it is okay to collide with the catcher in these situations, but not in these.

          • Mark Smith

            I've heard that before. I was taught to have my left foot on the foul line. Thereotically, the base runner should slide behind and around you at that point. Stradling the foul line seems like it invites collisions. But I'm not sure enough to know either way.

  3. dar34

    While it doesn't really apply in the Posey situation because he was in front of the plate until he had the ball, a lot of catchers set up on the third base line before the ball arrives. This should technically be interference if the runner contacts them before the ball. Correct?? Thus in many cases, there is a rule in place that should stop the non-slide contact.

    • Mark Smith

      It is interference. But like most things, it's up to the umpire's interpretation and enforcement. A lot of times, it goes uncalled.

    • Technically, it's obstruction, not interference, but this is a good point. You're not allowed to block the base without the ball, but quite often the catcher is blocking the plate with his left foot for a couple seconds prior to receiving the throw. If this rule was enforced to the letter of the law, fewer runners would feel it necessary to barrel over the catcher not only to reach home safely, but to protect himself from getting hurt sliding into a shin-guard protected leg.

      That said, Posey wasn't blocking the plate without the ball, but I think stricter enforcement of the rule could reduce the chance of a violent collision at the plate.

  4. Matt

    "No falling down"????

    I'm not sure how much an umpire can litigate this situation. Maybe calling a catcher for interference when they block the plate? That seems reasonable. Most catchers blatantly try to interfere with the runner's ability to reach the base/plate in these situations. My feeling is that if they are interfering and the ump is letting get away with it, they are putting themselves in danger. The runner has to be able to get to the base. "Blocking" the plate should not be a part of the game.

    • Mark Smith

      Yeah, it would have to be an obstruction/interference (I need to look up the difference) call. It's kind of weird. Catchers take liberties, like blocking the plate, because they have pads, and runners feel like they can run into them because they have pads. But both situations are dangerous for both parties involved.

      • MCM

        From MLB rulebook:

        INTERFERENCE
        (a) Offensive interference is an act by the team at bat which interferes with, obstructs, impedes, hinders or confuses any fielder attempting to make a play. …

        On any interference the ball is dead.
        *******************************************

        Great post Brian.

        We are not just talking about an injury that puts someone on the DL. This may be career ending. An accident is one thing, but intentional injury to another player – in any sport – isn't part of the game, it's criminal activity masquerading as part of the game. Or, in LA, as part of being a fan.

        (Come to think of it, isn't the justification for slamming into catchers the same justification people use when they riot after a championship game? Enthusiasm, energy, focus, power, showing, machismo, support for "my" team….)

        I've seen the replay a dozen times and every time it looks like Cousins wasn't aiming at home plate at all but gearing up for a collision while still halfway to home. It may be inexperience that had him confuse proving he was good enough to play in the big leagues with taking out an opposing player. The idea of the game is to score a run by tagging home plate, not to fix your eye and body on the catcher.

        All sports have had rules changes over time. If baseball rules can change to accommodate steroid fueled homers, then it can certainly change to deal with charging the catcher the way it had to deal with the "spikes up" slide. Focusing on making the game more interesting can include rules that channel aggression into play rather than into beanballs, spiking and charging the defense.

        If baseball doesn't make changes that reinstate sportsman like conduct, then the game is going to lose a lot more talented players to unnecessary injuries.

  5. Kurt

    Agree with MCM 100%. Cousins made no attempt to touch the base. He launched himself like a missile into Posey who was set up in front of the plate and was moving toward the baseline to make a tag. Baseball has to give umpires the leeway to call a runner out in circumstances like this. I realize it's a judgment call but if the catcher is not blocking the plate within the baseline then he deserves a measure of protection.

  6. Ken

    If it were made illegal in MLB, it would be illegal at all levels, and this is a good thing. As an 8th grader (I'm now 42), I flipped off my mask to field a suicide squeeze bunt that ended up going far enough for the pitcher to field it on the first base line. Instinctively, I blocked the plate, and as I was receiving the ball and turning to tag the runner, he essentially gave me a diving football block in the face. I never saw it, was thrown back about 6 feet, knocked out cold with broken nose. I woke up in the hospital a couple of hours later. Everyone agreed it was part of the game, but should it be? I have to admit that even I haven't given it much thought since then until now. I'd rather see Posey playing than save an unnecessary and dangerous tradition.

  7. David

    So, I don't think the rule should be changes, but I do think there should be more enforcement of a) illegal head-shots and b) illegal contact with catchers in those situations to begin with. I will highlight two examples:

    1) The Posey example. Posey was not blocking the plate but, in fast motion (e.g. "bang-bang""), appeared to get the ball from the OF, swing across the 3B-line to attempt to make a play (and, where he is at fault, do so from a precarious position) and had his head/shoulder area *in front of the plate*. Cousins didn't "launch" himself (I don't recall him leaving the feet) just lowered the shoulder because he was running full-speed at someone who — at the very last moment — interposed himself in his way. Thus, Posey assumed the risk (not blocking -> blocking) and Cousins took the actions available at the time
    (more)

    • David

      2) The Braun(?) example. Last night, the Giants replacement catcher received a throw from the OF and had Braun(?) dead to rights *by about 3-4 feet*. Braun barrelled him over anyways. Braun should be suspended for 20 games for intentional contact (similar to if a 1B gets a chop ball down first and attempts to tag out the runner). In both cases, runners are running at full speed but clearly dead-to-rights prior to the tag. No contact should be allowed, period.

      In the former case, Posey clearly at least made several bad decisions which contributed to his unfortunate injury. I'm sad to see him out (I think he was one of the best young players to watch as much as anyone and hate seeing young guys who were great for teams be out), but *even if he had the ball* it would have been as close a play and likely to have resulted in the same outcome. With Braun(?), it was clearly a situation that should not have been allowed, period.

  8. Blocking the plate is obstruction. Slamming into the catcher is interference. No new rules are required; the existing rules just need to be properly interpreted and enforced. It's up to MLB to get it right.

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