The issue of home plate collisions has arisen in the news again with the recent comments by Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny that he believes MLB should discontinue allowing runners to collide with catchers on plays at the plate. It is understandable why Matheny, a former catcher and sufferer of multiple concussions that ended his career, would have that opinion. Yadier Molina has been the victim himself of such collisions, one as recently as last season in a game against the Pirates, when he was knocked down by Josh Harrison, suffering minor injuries (thankfully no concussion) that resulted in him missing a few games. Losing Molina to a serious collision injury would be major blow to the Cardinals, no question about it.
But should the answer be to outlaw the practice? Some have suggested it shouldn’t, including current Indians manager Terry Francona. Francona suggests that banning the practice would get more runners hurt. He makes a point that I have often wondered about. If you ban the practice, and the catcher blocks the plate, what is the runner supposed to do? Should he just stop and give up and go to the dugout? Throw up his hands and say, “you got me”? It seems to me if you are going to ban the runner from colliding, you must also penalize the catcher for blocking the plate. If the catcher does block the plate when there is a play at the plate then the runner should be called safe. That only seems fair. And let’s be realistic, you can advise a catcher not to block the plate, but on a fast moving play, is he always going to do it?
I have said before that I am an old school fan. I don’t want players to be injured, but you can’t prevent all injuries unless you wrap every player up in body armor. And as one who is all too familiar with the slippery slope argument in the legal context, what is to prevent the next step from being the banning of the practice of breaking up double plays? And while they are at it, why not just stop using wooden bats to eliminate the threat of injury from broken bats? And then pitchers should be required to wear helmets. And maybe there should be wire fences all around the stadiums to prevent fans from being injured by foul balls and flying bats. Padding on all outfield walls to protect outfielders? I could probably think of some more if I had all night.
I don’t mean to mock the idea of trying to protect people. I am just suggesting that there is only so much you can do to eliminate danger in an industry, professional sports, where the risks are inherent. And there is something to be said for the application of the law of diminishing returns in this instance. More and more “improvements” eventually turn into a net negative. I would hate to see that happen to the sport I love.
I don’t expect everyone to agree with this position; I imagine most won’t. But I think there are issues that should be thought about and discussed before any action is taken. Fixes are not always easy or practical. Just my humble opinion.