The buzz over Buster Posey’s season-ending injuries as as result of his May 25th collision with Florida’s Scott Cousins is everywhere. Debate permeates the sports media and dominates conversations in every MLB clubhouse and in bars, living rooms and little league fields across the country.
It is a subject is worthy of our attention and passion because losing a player as dynamic and talented Posey is not only a loss for the San Francisco Giants, it diminishes the 2011 baseball season for anyone who cares about the game. The questions remain: should something be done to prevent MLB catchers from being injured in home plate collisions? And if the answer is “yes”, what exactly should be done?
A wide range of suggestions and solutions have been offered from the baseball establishment and national sports media. Giants Manager Bruce Bochy has stated several times that he believes MLB rules should be changed to protect catchers; specifically Bochy suggested runners coming down the third base line be restricted to run inside the baseline, while catchers be restricted to positioning themselves outside the line at the plate. Thoughtful but complicated.
St. Louis Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa is an old-school keeper of baseball tradition, but he believes that the rules affecting 1st base should also be applied to home plate. Reporter Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch posted that in spring training La Russa drills his catchers to always leave a slice of home plate for the runner.
The Cards’ Manager believes that a catcher should not be allowed to block home plate any more than a first baseman is allowed to block the first base bag. In that scenario, any runner blocked from the bag at first is safe. Oddly, that couldn’t apply to plays at second or third base, where blocking access to a sliding runner with a knee or foot is part of the artistry of defending those bases.
And second base is where I believe the solution to protecting catchers (and runners) at home plate can be found.
The art of the double play is one of the most graceful and dramatic plays in baseball. Cleveland shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera’s double play in the May 19th game against the White Sox will take your breath away. Probably no other defensive act on the field affects the course of a game greater than a double play. Shortstops and second basemen work out every day to become expert at catching the ball to make the out at second, pivot, then get a throw off to first base to complete a twin killing.
An important element in successfully completing a double play is avoiding player-to-player contact; not allowing yourself to be upended or bowled over by the runner who is pounding hard toward second base to do that very thing. This dovetails with Tony La Russa’s instructions to his catchers, and it is where managers and catchers should look to avoid a Posey/Cousins-type collision and still successfully defend home plate.
Like middle infielders, MLB catchers can adjust their positioning to be in front, in back, or at the sides of home plate, or to take part of the plate and leave part for the runner. This provides the runner with what he needs: a scoring target. The use of a quick tag or swipe tag on the runner provides the catcher with reasonable protection and the ability to still do his job.
Also part of solving the problem? Stop justifying collisions at home plate in terms of manning up and being tough. NHL hockey-like smash-ups have never been part of baseball tradition and that line of huffery has zero credibility in this argument. If that kind of tedium excites you, switch the TV channel to hockey central.
Apply the rules used at first base and add the infield artistry of making the double play to plays at the plate, and Buster Posey might have been working out this afternoon in St. Louis, preparing to catch Jonathan Sanchez in the last game of the Giants’ current road trip.