Issue Report: Home plate collision rule in baseball

Are home plate collisions in baseball worth preserving or banning?

Background and context

Catcher Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants, the National League’s rookie of the year in 2010, suffered a season-ending leg fracture and torn ligaments in May of 2011 when Florida’s Scott Cousins barreled into him at home plate in the 12th inning of the Marlins-Giants game. This, along with many other injurious home plate collisions throughout baseball history have sparked a recurring debate about whether home plate collisions should be banned. This could be done by prohibiting the catcher from blocking the plate and by prohibiting the runner from making intentional contact with the catcher (basically the same rules that apply on every other base other than home plate). Purists have responded that home plate collisions have been around for too long and are too embedded in baseball’s history to change the rules now, while opponents argue that “tradition for tradition’s sake” type of arguments are flawed and that banning home plate collisions would do nothing to fundamentally change the game. The issue also surrounds whether fans should find entertainment value in hits at the plate and how such physical contact relates to other sports. These and other arguments and considerations are outlined below.

Part of game: Are collisions an important part of game?

Home base collisions are just part of the game

Catcher Ray Fosse

“The game has been around more than 100 years, and now they’re going to start protecting catchers?”

San Francisco Giants Manager Andy Skeels, a former catcher: “That’s the part of our business. You’re a catcher. There’s gonna be plays at the plate and guys are gonna try to run you over.”

Home plate collisions are essential tension of offense/defense.

Dave Cameron. "It's time to end home plate collisions." Fan Graphs. May 26th, 2011

“Rounding the bases, getting to home plate and putting a run on the board for your team is what the game of baseball is all about. A baserunner wants to get there at all costs, whereas a catcher wants to protect it at all costs. The mutual discomfort that’s evoked in both the catcher and the baserunner as a play at the plate develops is one of the intriguing peculiarities that makes the game of baseball so great.”

Home base collisions are essential characteristic of "hardball."

Ricky Doyle. "Buster Posey's Injury Unfortunate, But Home-Plate Collisions Still Have Place in Baseball." NESN. May 29th, 2011

“Posey’s injury isn’t the first injury to result from a collision, and it likely won’t be the last. It’s extremely unfortunate, but it’s the result of a hard-nosed play that is as old as the game itself. To take away the potential for a high-intensity, physical play in an otherwise non-physical sport would be a mistake.

Runners throw themselves at fielder at second base as well.

Nick Cafardo. "Let’s keep rule change off our plate, please." The Boston Globe. May 29th, 2011
  • “The argument has been made that at no other base does the runner launch his body at the fielder without trying to slide into the base first. Not true. When runners are trying to break up double plays, are they always near the base?” In other words, such physical contact is a part of the game beyond just at home plate.

Home base collisions shouldn't be preserved for tradition's sake.

Mark Smith. "Home plate collision: It's about the money." May 27th, 2011

Just because it’s been around for a while does not make it right or necessarily worth preserving. Tradition for tradition’s sake arguments are almost always fallacious.

“One of the most common arguments I heard was that the play had been a part of the game since its inception, and it be allowed. Tradition can be an important thing. It’s traditional to have a Thanksgiving meal with my family, and that has its rewards—family time, seeing relatives, bigger and better meal. But what’s the traditional reward here? What do we get from having this tradition? Is it exciting to see a guy get run over, and is that worth seeing catchers hurt? […] doing something that’s always been done is a bad idea when there are better alternatives.”

Home plate contact isn't an important part of game.

Mark Smith. "Home plate collision: It's about the money." May 27th, 2011

“Contact isn’t an important part of the game like it is in football, and it isn’t necessary at the plate.”

Collisions aren't allowed anywhere else; why home plate?

Home plate collisions turn baseball players into gladiators.

Dave Cameron. "It's time to end home plate collisions." Fan Graphs. May 26th, 2011

“I was a catcher in high school, and I was trained how to block the plate while trying to keep myself alive. High School isn’t MLB, but I still found myself in a few situations where a significantly larger player was barreling towards me at full speed, and I realized that I had to stop being a baseball player and start being a gladiator. It was ridiculous to me then and is ridiculous to me now. Millar is right – if you want to watch violent collisions, you can watch football. Or hockey. Or MMA. There’s no reason baseball needs to have similar kinds of plays; it’s an entirely different sport with a different premise and different rules.”

Entertainment: Do collisions have good entertainment value?

Home base collisions are exciting to watch.

Nick Cafardo. "Let’s keep rule change off our plate, please." The Boston Globe. May 29th, 2011

“When they do occur, they’re exciting. We watch to see how well the catcher blocks the plate, how hard the runner slides, and whether the catcher can hold the ball. As dangerous as that play may be, it’s exciting to watch.”

Pro baseball players are paid to take risks, entertain.

Fosse told the San Francisco Chronicle. “In high school, you can’t run over the catcher. But that is high school. This is professional baseball.”

People shouldn't enjoy watching violent hits at home plate.

Why is it that people seem to enjoy aggressive hits at home plate? If they do, it’s probably for the wrong reasons. Individuals should probably not enjoy violence between individuals, hits, fights, etc. It’s a savage impulse that shouldn’t be honored by attaching some entertainment value to home plate collisions.

The game is worse off with good catchers injured.

Dave Cameron. "It's time to end home plate collisions." Fan Graphs. May 26th, 2011
  • “It’s in the best interest of the sport to keep the likes of Buster Posey and Carlos Santana healthy and on the field. It’s not good for anyone that these guys end up on the disabled list because they were trying to hold their ground.”

Protecting players: Is a ban important to protecting players?

Being a catcher means accepting certain inherent risks

Nick Cafardo. "Let’s keep rule change off our plate, please." The Boston Globe. May 29th, 2011

“Catchers are catchers because they are willing to be leaders and sacrifice their bodies. You never want to see the elite ones such as Joe Mauer and Buster Posey miss a lot of time because of injuries, but that’s the nature of the position.”

Injuries are part of game, don't justify rule changes.

Fadi. "In Defense Of Home Plate Collisions." Red State Blue State. May 27th, 2011

“No one likes to see people get hurt. No one. But guess what: it happens. People get hurt playing baseball all the time. Sometimes they get seriously hurt. It sucks. There’s no denying it. But that still doesn’t make it okay to go off and make drastic rule changes to the game, just because you and your worldwide leader in smut want blog traffic. Hate me ‘cuz it ain’t sugarcoated, just don’t hate me ‘cuz I’m right.”

Catchers don't have to block the plate.

They can swipe an incoming runner out just as effectively. If they choose to block the plate, than this is their choice, and they are inviting the home plate collision and the risks of injury this entails. In other words, catchers can protect themselves without a rule change.

Home base collisions, injuries too rare to justify ban

Mike Rutsey. "Inside Baseball: Colliding views." Toronto Sun. May 27th, 2011

“These days, though, hard, smash-mouth collisions at the plate are rare birds, close to extinction. The reason for this is the money involved as neither the runners nor the catchers are willing to crash into each other willy-nilly as perhaps they did in the past. There is too much on the line financially.”

Ricky Doyle. "Buster Posey's Injury Unfortunate, But Home-Plate Collisions Still Have Place in Baseball." NESN. May 29th, 2011

“to demand action to be taken as the direct result of the injury is a knee-jerk response, and one that is completely unnecessary. While they come with risk, home-plate collisions are rare occurrences in baseball, and injuries resulting from them are even rarer.”

That catchers know risks doesn't mean risks can't be reduced.

Mark Smith. "Home Plate Collisions." It's About the Money. May 27th, 2011

“Another argument is that Posey and all catchers understand the risk when they sign up to play catcher. It’s notoriously demanding behind the plate, and catchers know what they’re getting themselves into. It sounds good on the surface. Well, what do you think about factory workers? Back at the beginning of the century, they understood the risks of working in Industrial Revolution factories, but society still realized the conditions were too dangerous and changed the situation. Yes, they understand the risks, but that doesn’t mean they should be there to begin with. Yes, if I had the chance to make millions as a catcher, I would do it, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t prefer to do it without getting crushed at home plate.”

Catcher pads are not meant for human collisions.

Mark Smith. "Home Plate Collisions." It's About the Money. May 27th, 2011

“I also saw this argument, but I don’t think it was common. Catchers have pads and can withstand being hit. Just in case you believe this, yes, catchers have pads, but they aren’t great. They’re only somewhat helpful against half-pound leather projectiles, but that’s usually one after the ball has hit the ground. They don’t work against 200+ pound athletes barreling into you. Pads don’t always work well enough in football, and catcher pads are much worse at protecting the human body.”

Why subject pitchers to even more risks.

Dave Cameron. "It's time to end home plate collisions." Fan Graphs. May 26th, 2011

“Major League catchers already endure enough wear and tear on their bodies as is. They break down in their early thirties and have the shortest careers of any position on the field. Why should we also expect them to have to stand in and take hits that no other player on the field has to take? Why do they have to be football players when everyone else gets to play baseball?”

Many collisions have caused career-changing injuries.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy, a former catcher who had multiple head injuries in his playing days, called on Major League Baseball to explore ideas to protect players after the Buster Posey injury: “I think we do need to consider changing the rules here a little bit because the catcher is so vulnerable and there’s so many who have gotten hurt. And not just a little bit, had their careers ended or shortened.”

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