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Debate: Home plate collision rule in baseball

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

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Pro

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."[2]
  • 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."


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Con

  • Home base collisions shouldn't be preserved for tradition's sake. 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.
Mark Smith. "Home plate collision: It's about the money." May 27th, 2011: "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 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."


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Entertainment: Do collisions have good entertainment value?

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Pro

  • 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."


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Con

  • 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.


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Protecting players: Is a ban important to protecting players?

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Pro

  • 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.
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."


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Con

  • 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."[3]


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Feasibility of change: Is changing the rules feasible, workable, etc?

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Pro

  • Runner can't just stop if catcher has ball. Ray Fosse, who was famously injured by Pete Rose in a home base collision, defended such collisions, arguing in 2011: "The idea is to score runs. If the catcher has the ball and he's standing there, the runner has to stop? Is that the protection?"
  • Banning collisions would give unfair advantage to runner/catcher. Ricky Doyle. "Buster Posey's Injury Unfortunate, But Home-Plate Collisions Still Have Place in Baseball." NESN. May 29th, 2011: "Collisions at home plate aren't always necessary, and should be occur sparingly, but to regulate them would inevitably hand either the baserunner or the catcher an unnecessary advantage in close-play situations. If Major League Baseball was to employ a rule stating that runners must avoid contact with the catcher -- similar to the 'slide or avoid' rule employed in amateur baseball -- it would give the advantage to the catcher. The catcher would have the benefit of dictating the course of action that a baserunner must take, and would -- perhaps more importantly -- have peace of mind knowing that there is no chance of an ensuing collision. If Major League Baseball was to make a rule stating that the catcher cannot block the plate, the advantage would certainly go to the baserunner, who would enjoy the luxury of a straight path to the most sacred ground on a baseball diamond."
  • Banning home plate collisions: slippery slope to other limitations. Fadi. "In Defense Of Home Plate Collisions." Red State Blue State. May 27th, 2011: "Ban home plate collisions? What are you talking about, Buster? It was a freak accident. Ban home plate collisions!?! Why don’t we ban pitching inside too!?! And we should ban breaking up the double play on a hard slide into second!?! How about we ban walk-off celebrations and ban beer in the grandstands, JUST FOR FUN!?!"
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Con

  • Home plate collisions can be easily banned without changing game. Dave Cameron. "It's time to end home plate collisions." Fan Graphs. May 26th, 2011: "Just change the rules and make intentional contact with a catcher illegal, and make it illegal for catcher’s to impede the baserunner’s ability to run directly towards home plate. It’s a simple fix to a real problem, and there’s no reason why we should continue to delay making this change."
  • Runners would easily adjust to slide into home plate. Mark Smith. "Home plate collision: It's about the money." May 27th, 2011: "The next argument is what you would have the runner do instead. Slide around, of course. Players only bowl into home because they can. It isn’t allowed at first or third, and it’s only marginally allowed at second. But players don’t run through the defenders there. If there was a rule that took away the option to bowl over the catcher at home, runners wouldn’t even think about doing it. They would slide."
  • Ending home plate collisions can be neutral for catcher, runner. Mark Smith. "Home Plate Collisions." It's About the Money. May 27th, 2011: "Yes, it’s a dangerous play regardless, but those who would change the rules should change it in favor of the runner and the catcher. The runner cannot run into the catcher. The catcher cannot contact the runner with anything other than his glove, and he cannot drop his knee down to block the plate (those knee pads can be dangerous, and the catcher shouldn’t be throwing his weight around anymore than any other player at another base)."


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Vs other sports: How does it compare to other sports?

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Pro

  • Dangers are involved in every sport. Former All-Star catcher Bob Boone: "It's in every sport that we have, there are dangers there. There are dangers for a jockey climbing onto a horse. Do we just let the horses run by themselves and save injures? We see it in football. If we took the pads off and just played flag it be a lot better. We wouldn't have so many injures but it's part of our society. It's why it's so attractive to us, I think."[4]
Nick Cafardo. "Let’s keep rule change off our plate, please." The Boston Globe. May 29th, 2011: "Catchers understand that there are plays they must make that could jeopardize their careers. Just as the quarterback who hangs in the pocket until the last second knows that a 300-pound lineman or blitzing linebacker may crush him"


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Con

  • Other sports have changed rules to make game safer. Dr. David Geier. "Should MLB ban home plate collisions?" May 30, 2011: "changing rules about trying to score on fly balls would not fundamentally change the game. It would eliminate the collision, not the ability to score on fly balls. It would affect a small component of baseball to make it safer. Eliminating fighting in hockey or tackling in football are not equal comparisons, as some have argued. Eliminating chop blocks in football or body checking from behind in hockey are much better comparisons. They are evolutions of the rules in these sports to protect their players while still maintaining the integrity and nature of the sports."


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Pro/con sources

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