MLB Banning Home-Plate Collisions, At Last

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Careers have been ruined by these kinds of hits. It's well past time to get rid of them.

Yes, I know. You still swoon over what Ted Lilly did to Yadier Molina:

Or you cheered when Dioner Navarro blocked Chase Utley last August:

Navarro had to be carted off the field, as you recall, and at the time it looked like that might be season-ending, if not career-threatening. Navarro proved his toughness by being back in the lineup in three days.

But should it have to be that way? Should a catcher have to prove he's "tough" by subjecting himself to body blows like this?

It's fortunate that neither Molina nor Navarro was seriously hurt in the collisions you see above, but other catchers, from Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game (and might have had his career ruined) to Buster Posey, who lost most of his 2011 season, haven't been so lucky. And now, Major League Baseball is about to join other professional sports leagues in attempting to cut down on contact like this that can result in major injury.

ESPN.com reports that MLB intends to ban home-plate collisions, possibly as soon as next season:

Sources tell ESPN's Buster Olney that there is a strong desire for MLB's rules committee to fast-track the specific rule changes in time for next season.

Under the rules changes being discussed, sources told Olney:

• Catchers will not be allowed to block home plate.

• Runners will not be permitted to target the catchers.

• The question of whether or not the plate was blocked or the runner targeted the catcher will be reviewable, with an immediate remedy available to the umpires.

• Catchers or runners who violate the new rules will be subject to disciplinary action.

This is all a good thing. It will also take some getting used to, because even though part of MLB Rule 7.06 (b) says this:

The catcher, without the ball in his possession, has no right to block the pathway of the runner attempting to score. The base line belongs to the runner and the catcher should be there only when he is fielding a ball or when he already has the ball in his hand.

From time immemorial, catchers have blocked the plate waiting for the throw, and then the runner. It results in collisions such as the ones you see above, and many others. It makes runners attempt to knock over catchers in an attempt to make them drop the ball, if the ball has beaten the runner to the plate. It has resulted in injuries, and it's only by good fortune that those injuries haven't resulted in a catcher being permanently paralyzed.

Some old-school catchers might lament the passing of this new rule, because they think "toughness" ought to be part of the game. That's the same thinking that has gotten the NFL, and now the NHL, sued by former players whose lives have been ruined by concussions. That's happened in baseball, too -- from the ESPN.com article above:

Mike Matheny, the St. Louis Cardinals' manager and a former catcher, made an emotional presentation about the impact of concussions on his life. MLB estimates that about 50 percent of concussions are related to collisions.

Matheny's career ended at age 35 in part due to concussions. No less a player than Hall of Famer Johnny Bench tweeted this, today:

Sports fans -- and we're all guilty of this at times, I think -- cheer loudly when there's a hard hit in football, or hockey, or even on the baseball diamond. Baseball isn't a contact sport, and there's no reason that this sort of contact has to be part of the game. You can be a tough competitor without trying to beat your opponent to a pulp.

I'm glad that MLB has finally addressed home-plate collisions. It will make the game safer for everyone involved.

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