The resistance welcomes Mike Matheny. Here's a pick-axe. Here's some dynamite. We have some supply lines to sabotage.
If you've been reading this site for a while, you'll know that the authors around here have some quality groupthink going on home-plate collisions. Collisions at home are stupid, awful, pointless, and anachronistic, but other than that, I guess the debate is still wide open. For a while, though, it felt like the HPC resistance was a small, vocal minority.
Bruce Bochy was the first ex-catcher to come out against home-plate collisions after the Buster Posey injury. There might -- might -- be a correlation between his sudden advocacy and the uniform Posey wears, but Bochy maintains that he's been against them all along. On Tuesday, another ex-catcher came out against collisions, and when Mike Matheny talks about catching, people tend to listen. Here's some of what he had to say:
The runner is stuck in a spot sometimes where if he doesn't do it, he feels like he's let his team down. Take it out of their hands.
"We're talking about the brain," Matheny said. "It's just been so shoved under the rug. I didn't want to be the poster boy for this gig, but I was able to witness in ways I can't even explain to people how that altered by life for a short period of time and changed the person that I was.
"I understand old school, and I consider myself an old school player, as far as the way I go out and the way I was taught the game. I just don't see the sense in it."
It's one thing for a effete dweeb like me to rail against the collisions. It's another for Mike Matheny to say something. And if you're wondering where the "poster boy" line comes from, it's a reference to Matheny's personal history with concussions. He had to retire in the second year of a three-year deal with the Giants because of concussions. Granted, those concussions were due to foul balls to the head, but you can be sure the ordeal gave Matheny a different perspective on head injuries.
If you're going to take away one quote from the Matheny article, though, it should probably be this:
"But I do believe that this game will get to the point where there will no longer be a collision at the plate. And I am 100 percent in support of that."
That's all you need to know. There will be changes. Joe Torre's grumbling aside, there will be changes. It's inevitable, and it's not just baseball. It's the direction in which almost every major sport is heading.
The NFL is taking all kinds of sustained criticism for the head injuries suffered by players, and the effects that can linger long after their playing careers. But what's the solution? Football is a sport where the most freakish athletes in the world run into each other at top speed, with one of the player's explicit aim being to drive the other player to the ground. How do you prevent traumatic injuries in that sport?
The NHL is having a similar problem with concussions right now. And, again, that sport is designed around high-speed contact. It's people zipping around on ice, running into each other because that's how the game is played. What sort of magic bullet is there for that problem?
In soccer, there's been a dramatic increase of players rolling around on the ground, holding their knees, and screaming "Ow, my concussion! Ow, my concussion!" FIFA can probably figure that out on their own.
But with the NFL and NHL, it's impossible to please everyone. Those executives and owners can have all the high-powered meetings and roundtable discussions they want, but the problem is that changes to protect the human brain in those sports will fundamentally alter the sport. Picture a very smart man in a very expensive suit, head in hands, thinking, "My god, how do we balance the safety and the entertainment?" That's the NFL and NHL, and that's probably what they'll be like as long as those sports are around.
With baseball, here's the rule change that would be needed:
When there is a collision between a runner and a fielder who clearly is in possession of the ball, the umpire shall judge:
If the defensive player blocks the base (plate) or base line with clear possession of the ball, the runner may make contact, slide into or make contact with a fielder as long as the runner is making a legitimate attempt to reach the base (plate). Contact above the waist that was initiated by the base runner shall not be judged as an attempt to reach the base or plate.
That's straight from the NCAA rule book. MLB's already got a rule about blocking the plate without the ball, and the combination of the two rules would solve the problem.
The NFL has to dig into the nature of the sport, the delicate balance between what changes fans will tolerate and the moral responsibility the league has to the players.
The NHL has to ruminate on its very design, where body checks are an integral part of the game's strategy and action.
MLB has to say, "Don't make contact with a catcher above the waist, dummies."
And look at us, talking about the brain. There are also the knees, ankles, necks, arms, fingers, shoulders, and backs to think about, too. All of those parts are attached to million-dollar investments, too, which is kind of important. Baseball is using new helmets this year to protect hitters. Because they can. As soon as they figure out a better way to protect pitchers on the mound without changing the nature of the game, they will.
The home-plate collision is also on its way out, too. It's so easy for baseball to fix. It's just a matter of when. We welcome Mike Matheny to the resistance. Heck, we might as well make him our spiritual leader. I wonder if Bob Dylan or Pete Seeger have any songs about home-plate collisions we can play at the rallies. This will all be over soon, folks.