AthleticBusiness.com has partnered with LexisNexis to bring you this content.

Copyright 2013 Gannett Company, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
USA TODAY
Jorge L. Ortiz, @jorgelortiz, USA TODAY Sports
 

With the high incidence of injuries and the chance of concussions no longer deemed acceptable job hazards, Major League Baseball on Wednesday decided to ban collisions at the plate.

Now the question is whether that will be enough to persuade teams it's safe to leave their top-hitting catchers behind the plate.

The proposed change by baseball's rules committee, which needs to be fleshed out and approved by team owners and the players union, is expected to go into effect for the 2014 season.

New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, chairman of the committee, said the new rule would govern runners and catchers, although the details regarding positioning, intent and enforcement have yet to be worked out.

"Ultimately, what we want to do is change the culture of acceptance that these plays are ordinary, routine and an accepted part of the game," Alderson said. "The risks and costs associated in terms of health and injury no longer warrant the status quo."

Catchers suffered 10 of the 18 concussions that forced players to go on the disabled list in 2013.

In the last year alone, All-Star catchers Mike Napoli and Joe Mauer have exchanged the so-called tools of ignorance for the relative safety of first base. The San Francisco Giants hear calls from fans and news media pleading for them to move 2012 National League MVP Buster Posey, who suffered a season-ending leg injury in a May2011 collision, to another position.

A hitter of Posey's caliber has greater value in an era increasingly defined by pitching and, while reduced, the dangers of baseball's most rugged position won't be eliminated by the new rule.

Mauer did not suffer his concussion on a collision but rather as the result of a foul tip. The aftereffects of the injury, which occurred Aug.19, sidelined him for the rest of the season. Post-concussion symptoms lasted into October, and in November the Minnesota Twins announced they would move the three-time batting champ to first permanently.

Will other clubs with offensively gifted catchers follow suit?

"I think it's something people are going to start thinking about," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We need Joe Mauer on the field. Yes, he's a great catcher in the league, but we need him on the field."

The issue of how to preserve the offensive contributions from good-hitting catchers is hardly a new one. Hall of Famer Johnny Bench, arguably the greatest catcher of all time, rarely crouched behind the plate the last three seasons of his career, playing mostly first and third base.

But other factors not present during Bench's career are involved now, namely huge contracts and knowledge of the dangers of concussions.

The Twins almost certainly won't get full value on Mauer's eight-year, $184million deal, which runs through 2018, with him at first base.

The Giants signed Posey to a nine-year, $167million extension in March after he had led the club to World Series titles in two of the previous three seasons, in large part because of his ability to call a game and get the most out of the pitching staff.

"He's like an extra coach on the field," Giants President Larry Baer said. "Of the nine years, how many are you going to get with him as a catcher? Hopefully all nine, but you figure in the near term, because of his age (26), he'll be able to stay at the position. And then in the back end, whatever happens, happens."

Posey's catastrophic injury when bowled over by Scott Cousins of the then-Florida Marlins -- he suffered a broken leg and three torn ankle ligaments -- provided the initial impetus for the rule change. Giants manager Bruce Bochy became an outspoken advocate for modifying the rules, and he was joined by St.Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, like him a former catcher.

"The size of runners coming in as fast as they are, I want to try to eliminate severe injuries," Bochy said. "And Mike feels the same way, be it concussion or broken ankle."

Joe Torre, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations -- and a former catcher -- was reluctant to implement changes at first but eventually came around.

The lessons from the NFL, which in August agreed to a $765million settlement of a lawsuit by former players for concussion-related claims, surely sank in.

"I just believe we can't turn a blind eye to what's going on in these other sports," Matheny said.

Still, the rule modification is not universally welcome.

Shortly after the announcement, Pittsburgh Pirates backup catcher Tony Sanchez tweeted, "Nothing better than getting run over and showing the umpire the ball. Please don't ban home plate collisions."

And Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost said he relished collisions when he was a catcher and believed banning them would alter the game.

Yet Yost pointed out how much the Royals struggled when their All-Star catcher, Salvador Perez, was out because of a death in the family.

Losing him for an extended stretch would be devastating.

"He's a rarity, because he's a Gold Glove catcher that can hit and be a middle-of-the-order offensive performer and produce," Yost said. "To have a kid like him on your club, there's just none out there."

With the new rule, baseball hopes to keep more like Perez on the field.

 

December 12, 2013
 

 

 
 

 

Copyright © 2013 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Terms and Conditions Privacy Policy