Torre Continues to Resist Changes on Home-Plate Collisions

As vice president of on-field operations, Joe Torre is Major League Baseball’s point man on rule changes. If Torre doesn’t think a rule change is warranted, a proposed change isn’t going to get very far. He’s not the final arbiter — rule changes are made only by a vote of the owners and the players’ union — but he is the gatekeeper of rule-change ideas.

In the past several years, Torre’s been fending off requests to consider rule changes on home-plate collisions. Those requests reached a fever pitch in May 2011 after Scott Cousins voilently collided with Buster Posey, knocking the Giants’ catcher out for the season. Just days later, Astros’ catcher Humberto Quintero and Pirates’ catcher Ryan Doumit suffered serious injuries after home-plate collisions. Torre is a former catcher, and many hoped his experiences behind the plate would make him receptive to protecting catchers from head-on collisions. But, in fact, the opposite has been true.

Posey’s manager, Bruce Bochy, spent much of 2011 lobbying other managers. Many agreed with him, but Torre did not. Bochy and others would like to see a neutral zone around the catcher, particularly when he’s receiving a ball from right field. In such cases, the runner couldn’t simply put his shoulder down and barrel into the catcher at full-speed — as Cousins did to Posey. Torre wasn’t convinced. In late 2011, he spoke to Giants beat writer Andrew Baggarly

“Well, listen, I knew it was more emotional than anything else. None of us like to see that. But I really haven’t heard anything that would encourage me to change anything or recommend a change. Being a catcher for a lot of years, I knew what the consequences were.”

In other words: It’s always been done this way, so why change?

Bochy has continued to press the issue and has an active ally in Cardinals manager Mike Matheny — another former catcher — whose career was cut short after repeated concussions caused partly by home-plate collisions. And a few weeks ago, it looked like some progress was in the offing:

But no. Torre hasn’t softened his stance. Not one bit, according to this story in yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle.

“My stance has really never changed. I’ve always said I’m willing to listen and I’m willing to talk. If something makes sense, we’ll certainly take it seriously.

“If something is going to make the game safer and not affect the way the game is played, I’m certainly all for it. Up until now, I really haven’t heard that thing that would make us change.”

“And not affect the way the game is played.”

That’s the key point from Torre’s recent comments and it mirrors what he said back in 2011. Even if a rule change would make the game safer, it shouldn’t be pursued because it would “affect the way the game is played.”

Hmm. Seems we’ve heard a variation of this argument before. “Baseball is a game of history and tradition. You mess with that, and you mess with the very fabric, the very core of the game.”

“That’s why we can’t have black players in the game.”

“That’s why we can’t have instant replay.”

“That’s why we can’t have female umpires.”

“That’s why we must have a ban on PEDs and HGH.”

The integrity of the game. Or, rather, an idealized version of the integrity of the game, that must be preserved at all costs.

Nonsense.

Baseball is a sport steeped in tradition but shouldn’t allow itself to be suffocated by it. Times change. Knowledge evolves. Batters wear helmets. Catchers wear masks. Runners on first can’t leave the baseline for the sole purpose of taking out the second baseman or shortstop on a slide. The league is investigating protective headgear for pitchers, after Brandon McCarthy took a line-drive off his head last season and needed emergency brain surgery to save his life.

Instant replay is here for foul ball/home run calls and much more is coming soon (although not soon enough). Will it change how the game is played when an off-the-field umpire quickly reviews a close play at first base and overrules the on-field umpire? Of course it will. Will it make the game better? I think so. It certainly will make the game more fair and more accurate.

Last season, I wrote about the spate of lawsuits against the NFL by former players who have developed, or fear developing, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) from repeated blows to the head. I wondered if similar lawsuits were likely against MLB for life-threatening injuries suffered by players hit in the head by pitches. I concluded then that MLB was likely safe from liability because it hadn’t withheld information from players, as the NFL is accused of doing. Now I wonder what will happen if MLB takes no action to protect catchers from head-on collisions in the face of mounting evidence that repeated blows to head could cause long-term brain damage.

But it shouldn’t come to that.

Change the rule, MLB. Change it because doing so makes the game safer. And if that means the game isn’t played in the future exactly as it was played in the past, so be it.

We hoped you liked reading Torre Continues to Resist Changes on Home-Plate Collisions by Wendy Thurm!

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Wendy writes about sports and the business of sports. She's been published most recently by Vice Sports, Deadspin and NewYorker.com. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.

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Bob
Guest
Bob

If a catcher doesn’t want to get trucked at home plate, don’t block the runner’s path.

If a cather is not blocking the path to home plate, and the runner goes out of their way to plow into the catcher, treat it the same as any other situation where the runner leaves the base path to intentionally create contact with the defender. No different than running out of the base path to break up a double play.

Dave
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Dave

Yea, it’s no different! Except for the fact that a “hard slide” is completely different than a head on collision.

jg941
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jg941

Bob, simple yes or no question: Can a runner knock over/barrel into/”truck” any other fielder in a basepath when he’s trying to get to 1B, 2B or 3B? If you correctly answered “no”, then why do you think it somehow makes sense to allow the runner to do this when he’s trying to get to home plate?

Please answer (if you can) without using any historical/”how the game’s always been played” reference, please.

Sparkles Peterson
Guest
Sparkles Peterson

Pretty sure a baserunner can in fact barrel into any other infielder who happens to be standing in the basepath. The only difference is that catchers are the only ones who routinely break the rules by using their bodies to block a base before they have the ball.

NeilS
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NeilS

A baserunner can make incidental/accidental contact with any infielder if the infielder is obstructing him, yeah, because the infielder shouldn’t be there. But barreling into him suggests an intent to injure – and you can never do that. (Unless, it seems, the guy you’re trying to injure is a catcher. Or you’re only using your spikes. Which is also stupid.)

vivalajeter
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vivalajeter

And another obvious difference is that 1B, 2B, SS and 3B don’t wear pads over their legs. Or a chest protector. Or a mask.

paperlions
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paperlions

The difference is that a runner can NOT attempt to dislodge the ball by running over a fielder at any other base. If any other IF has the ball as the runner approaches, the runner is obliged to stay in the base paths and attempt to safely reach a base….without running over a fielder with the ball in his possession. If a runner attempt to dislodge the ball with any action that is not a normal running/sliding motion, the runner is out.

There is no special rule for home plate in the rule book. If a catcher is in the basepath with the ball, the runner should be called safe for obstruction. If a runner attempts to run over a catcher to dislodge the ball, even if he is successful), the runner should be called out for interference. Those are already rules, all MLB has to to is enforce them.

Wil
Guest
Wil

A runner can DEFINITELY run into a fielder who is blocking the basepath. I saw Brian McCann take out a fielder from the Mets I believe (may have been David Murphy) because of this exact reason.

Steve
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Steve

All these years watching baseball, and you’ve never seen a 6-4-3 double play?

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11

… and if a point guard doesn’t want an elbow to the forehead, then he shouldn’t drive the lane when Charles Oakley, Rick Mahorn,Dale Davis, etc are defending the paint. They know the consequences?

FWIW, Posey wasn’t blocking the runner’s path. The dumbass runner that tried to tag on a shallow fly to RF realized the only way he’d be safe is to hit the catcher so hard that he drops the ball before he can tag the runner before runner touches home plate.

Does anyone notice other leagues are making rule changes that essentially serve to “keep the talent in the game” (and not on the DL or IR).

I have, for a long time, said that they should make the area in front of the plate the “catcher’s crease” (just like the goalie in hockey). That’s where the catcher stands on plays at the plate, and then he makes a tag. It’s still exciting, there’s still bang-bang plays, etc. Hockey doesn’t seem to suffer from a lack of machismo.

I played baseball from t-ball through college, including caught through 8th grade until I became a pitcher/RF. My son 11U is a talented catcher on an 11U Travel and All-Star teams.* I have experience and a vested interest in the catcher position. As a former pitcher catchers are revered in my house.

* I have seen my 115-pound tree-trunked leg kid destroy a couple of runners at the plate racing them to home plate following a WP/PB that dribbled away, slide shin guard first into the runner (blocking the plate) and two-handed tag them in the chest. It’s the type of play that would make dads go “Hell yeah, did you see that?!?!?!?” I asked him not to do it again until HS, because it’s simply not a play that belongs in 11U baseball where some kids legs are smaller than my forearms.

Same thing at MLB, they got rid of runners being able to roll SS/2B into LF. During Ty Cobb’s day they got rid of “spikes high” slides that intended to only knock the ball out of the glove or knock the glove off the hand, pitchers playing beanbrawl (for the most part), most OF walls are padded … ALL of which have changed the way the game is played, at least a little bit.

I also am fatigued with the idea by some that baseball is a “contact sport”, as if it’s in the same group as football. It’s not, it’s more golf than football. It takes an incredible amount of courage to stand 60-feet from a pitcher/batter throwing/striking a ball at tremendous velocity, but let’s stop acting like “crushing blows” are an integral part of the game.

Catching is too important of a position for the best athletes NOT to play it.

MLB simply needs to enforce it’s existing rules or set up something that is obvious to everything. Regardless it won;t be anything like “putting a skirt on catchers”.

Tim
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Tim

I don’t think using hockey goalies as an example is a good idea, unless you want catchers to get run a couple times a game and batters to be able to hit them with the bat whenever they’re annoyed at anything.

kwyjibo
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kwyjibo

TO BILL BRASKY!! (Whether that be Circlechange or cc’s son is up to the reader)

LaLoosh
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LaLoosh

Yes and Scott Cousins went out of the path to home plate for the sole purpose of taking Posey out and by extension knocking the ball loose from him in 2011. That type of slide should be illegal along with a head first slide. It’s really as simple as that.

Bob
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Bob

There are all ready rules regarding a runner leaving the base path. Those rules should have been applied, if he did.

LaLoosh
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LaLoosh

i agree and perhaps all that needs to happen is the “out of basepath” rules need tightening wrt home plate.

LaLoosh
Guest
LaLoosh

in addition, these “football slides” should just be outlawed. This quaint idea that it’s always been part of the game is just ridiculous if used as a reason to keep it in the game. If not sliding with the clear intent on trying to score (reach home plate), then runner should simply be ruled out. That will end the take out slide practice.

TKDC
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TKDC

Since he lands on top of the plate immediately after the collision, it is difficult to understand how you think he left the base path.

hilarie
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hilarie

Unbelievable. Watch an effing replay and learn how to easily understand that. Posey was in the infield, a couple feet on the pitcher’s side of the plate, twisting around to make a swipe tag after catching (and then dropping) a throw from rf that had him facing away from the baseline. You don’t try to make a swipe tag if you’re in the basepath.

That’s why the Torre response to the Cousins infraction has always driven me crazy: As many have said, there is already a very clear rule against what he did (and also against blocking the plate without possessing the ball). Enforce it. THEN decide if a rule change is needed to handle pure in-the-basepath collisions.

Dave in GB
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Dave in GB

So if they ban the head first slide is ok to ban a fielder from diving for a ball in play?

Zac
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Zac

Wait, does diving for a ball in play have the potential to hurt another person? If not, I’m not sure of the relevance.