Thursday, December 12, 2013

Colliding thoughts

Pete Rose runs over Ray Fosse in a famous play in the
1970 All-Star Game. Rose scored the winning run;
Fosse suffered a broken shoulder and never again
played to the level of his 1970 half-season.
The specifics of the rule hasn't been written yet, nor has the general concept been endorsed by the players union, but baseball is about to ban home plate collisions.

I have mixed emotions about this. Some highly memorable moments watching the Twins have involved home plate collisions: Kirby Puckett plowing over Terry Steinbach (Steinback held onto the ball). Dan Gladden putting Greg Olson upside down in Game One of the 1991 World Series (Olson held onto the ball). Torii Hunter blowing up the White Sox' Jamie Burke in 2004 (Burke did not get the out). One not involving the Twins that sticks in my mind: pitcher Norm Charlton running over Mike Scoscia, the master of blocking the plate.

And, of course, the Pete Rose-Ray Fosse play, shown above. It happened in the first All-Star game I actually watched on TV. It was sort of a seminal moment for me: this is how the big boys play baseball.

And yet, it is an undeniably dangerous play, for both the baserunner and the catcher. Denard Span's concussion in 2011 came from a play at the plate.

The profit-loss equation has long encouraged catchers to block the plate. We got a dose of the obstruction rule during the World Series. What's the (official) penalty for a catcher who blocks the plate before securing the ball? Runner scores. What happens if catcher doesn't block the plate before getting the ball? Runner scores. Might as well block the plate.

For years umpires let catchers obstruct baserunners. And, to be sure, some baserunners ran over catchers who weren't fully blocking the plate -- in part because catchers were adept at getting the shin guard into position to keep the runner from sliding home.

Now all that's supposed to end. We'll see. 

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