Thrill of Victory

The one rule baseball must start enforcing

When the Giants won the World Series last year, it was due in no small part to catcher Buster Posey, who batted a .336 with 24 homers and 107 RBIs during the regular season. It was good enough for MVP honors, but the remarkable thing was that Posey was even playing at all.

Most baseball fans remember the play. On May 25 of the previous season, the Giants were in the 12th inning of a tie game against the Florida Marlins, and as a fly ball was hit to the outfield, Posey was all that stood between the Marlins’ Scott Cousins, who stood at third base, and home plate. As the ball hit leather in an outfielder’s glove, Cousins tagged and sprinted home. As he neared the vicinity of the dish, he lowered his shoulder and slammed into Posey in an attempt to score the winning run.

Cousins weighs 200 pounds, and when he hit Posey, all the catcher’s equipment in the world couldn’t protect Posey from the force. It knocked Posey on his back, but his cleats were still firmly in the ground. Posey broke his fibula and tore ligaments in his ankle. It took four months for him just to walk again; it’s hard to believe he’s playing baseball, much less playing at a high level.

Former MLB catcher Mike Matheny, in some ways, feels Posey’s pain.

Matheny was once one of the better receivers in baseball, winning a Gold Glove in 2005 before a series of foul tips off his mask caused a serious concussion the next year, which forced his abrupt retirement. (Ironically, Matheny’s injury also happened in May as he played for the Giants.) Matheny said that, while home plate collisions had only a minor role with his injuries, the years away from the game have made him realize how senseless the collisions around home plate are in light of the safety risk, and the fact that they’re often preventable.

So, Matheny made the news this week in announcing that he plans to speak with Major League Baseball executive vice president Joe Torre soon over the very subject that ended Posey’s 2011 season.

Matheny faces a tough challenge in Torre, who said after the Posey collision two years ago, that the rules didn’t need changing. The irony of the situation is that Torre is exactly right: the rules don’t need to be changed. They just need to be enforced. Fielders are strictly prohibited from blocking bases so as to impede a runner’s path.

Torre’s one of baseball’s good guys, and it’s no knock in his character so much as it is a reflection of how much baseball is set in its own ways without really thinking things through. The mindset of baseball’s old guard is more or less, “Hey, our game’s been just fine for over 150 years, why do we need to change anything?” The fact that an injury to a star like Posey made no dent in the company line is more than a bit concerning.

So, here’s my suggestion to Matheny: flip the argument on its ear by taking it to an absurd (but entirely consistent) extreme. The rebuttal would go something like this: if there’s nothing wrong with not enforcing the rules at home plate, then why enforce them at any other base.

Can you imagine the spectacle and controversy created as first basemen throughout the league started stationing themselves directly in front of first base with each infield ground ball? Obviously, umpires would call interference on the fielders in each case, which would beg the question: why are the rules suddenly unimportant at home???

If Major League Baseball wants to make blocking home plate legal, it should write it in the rules. But I hope that sometime soon, common sense will prevail. The next time there’s a collision with a star of Buster Posey’s magnitude, we might not be so lucky as to see his return to the game.