Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Injury Bug Attacks Other Clubs Too-A Look at Home Plate Collisions

The recent injuries to San Francisco Giant Buster Posey and Colorado Rockies starter Jorge DeLaRosa is proof that this season is far from over.  As awful as this Dodger team has performed against the lowly teams of the National League, they are only a small winning streak away from being right in the thick of the N.L. West Title race.  A lot of things need to change with them, particularly in the clutch hitting department, but if they turn things around, they’ll be in it.  They are only six games out while they are 7 games under .500.

Sports talk radio here in San Francisco is abuzz about the Buster Posey injury yesterday.  I am a bit surprised that Giant Manager Bruce Bochy is actually suggesting that some rules changes be made to protect catchers at the plate from collisions.  Last time I checked, a catcher planting himself into a plate blocking position is an option for the catcher, not a mandatory activity.  What he is proposing is to throw away some 125 years of baseball tradition to prevent collisons at the plate.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News conducted an interview with the Giants skipper and it was interesting to see his perspective on the play:

KAWAKAMI: Do you think the collision was a clean baseball play?
BOCHY :  It’s part of baseball. I understand that. Guys running into catchers… Being a catcher, I’ve been in a few of them. You’re in harm’s way there.
I do think we need to consider changing the rules there a little bit, because the catcher’s so vulnerable and there’s so many that have gotten hurt. And not just a little bit. I mean, careers ended or shortened.
And here’s a guy that’s very popular in baseball. Fans want to see him play, and now he’s out for a while.
I’d like to see maybe something considered here where we can protect these guys a little bit more. They just don’t have the protection to take a guy coming at full speed with that kind of force.
It’s part of the game. (But) he had two paths to go. He could’ve gone for home plate. But he elected to try to knock the ball loose. He didn’t know that Buster had dropped the ball.
KAWAKAMI: Had you ever talked to Buster about trying to avoid those kinds of collisions—don’t block the plate?
BOCHY: I’ve talked to Buster. He’s heard me tell him I didn’t want him blocking the plate. He was not completely in front of the plate. He was in a position where he could make the tag without getting hit, too.
He just got himself in a tough position there because of how his leg was situated. He was down on one knee and ideally you’d like to have the foot pointed that way to have it protected a little bit, but again, you’re trying to handle the throw. You don’t have time to get set up perfectly.
That’s what hurt him, his leg was tucked underneath him when he got hit.
-KAWAKAMI: What kind of rule change are you suggesting?
-BOCHY: I think you could say, you know what, if there’s a lane there, you’ve got to go for home plate.
I know in high school and college, they have a rule there. But if there’s no place to go, then, sure, you can run into the catcher.
I don’t know .I’m just saying we might need to consider something to protect these guys. Because they are getting bigger and faster and hitting these guys when they’re not really prepared to get hit.
It’s a little different than football. It’s not really built to be a contact sport, as much as it my look like it. You saw what happened here.
There’s been a lot of really nasty injuries with catchers… I just don’t want to see somebody carried off when they get their neck."
So there you have it.  Bruce Bochy is promoting a rule change, understandably, because he just lost his best position player for the season.  I just think that things should remain the same.  The home plate collision is part of the game.  If a catcher chooses to sacrifice his body to block the plate, he does so at his own risk.  As far as the vulnerability they face,  there is no doubt they are vulnerable since the catcher must concentrate on catching the throw, blocking the plate and applying the tag.  But it shouldn't go unnoticed that the catcher is wearing the armor when the collision occurs.  Mike Scioscia used to regularly lay the armor on runners colliding with him.  Addiitionally, there have been some tough catchers over the years that did their share of damage to runners in collisions too.

The Dodgers faced this problem years ago when Mike Piazza was their superstar position player.  As far as I recall, they never seriously considered moving him to another position.  I have read that Minnesota is considering moving Joe Mauer away from the plate specifically to avoid injuries such as this.  Washington was proactive and moved 1st round pick Bryce Harper to the outfield before he even started catching on the professional level.
This injury may make San Francisco re-think putting Posey back behind the plate after he heals up from this injury.  Posey has played 1st, 3rd and SS during his college career.  I hope this injury doesn't destroy his career.   He truly is an talented player.
I recall from my younger days some spectacular, bone jarring, memorable home plate collisions.  The first being the 1970 All Star Game where Pete Rose took out Ray Fosse in extra innings.  Controversial to this day, Ray Fosse never was the same player after that play.
Dave Parker donned a facemask after breaking his cheekbone in '78 collision with John Stearns
Gary Matthews crashed into Johnny Bench in a 1975 collision that was the beginning of the end for Bench behind the plate.  He hurt his shoulder bad and needed off-season shoulder surgery, but the big guy toughed it out for the entire '75 season and won a World Championship with the Reds.
Scioscia was a Dodger from 1980-92
Dave Parker's collisions with catchers were quite memorable.  Breaking Johnny Oates collerbone, knocking out Steve Yeager cold (who, by the way, held onto the ball to record the out), and Parker breaking his cheekbone in a collision with Met catcher John Stearns in 1978.  And there were the Mike Scioscia collisions that took blocking the plate to a new level.  According to Dodger scout Ben Wade in 1985, Scioscia was the best plate blocker he had ever seen in his thirty years in the game.  Wade was convincing enough that his testimony in an arbitration hearing was good enough to win Mike a victory, to the Dodger organization's chagrin.
There was a collision at the plate between Chili Davis of San Francisco and Scioscia in 1986 that was for the ages.  Davis separated his shoulder and Scioscia was knocked out for a small spell.  The year before, Cardinal Jack Clark and Scioscia collided with Scioscia being sent to the hospital, but Clark was out.  Many agree with Wade's assessment that considered Scioscia the greatest plate blocker the game ever saw.  Mike would always apply the tag with the ball firmly placed in his catchers mitt, giving the runner a full force shove when applying the tag.
"You try to keep tabs on the runner, but the important thing is to catch the ball," Scioscia said in a 1985 Los Angeles Times interview with Scott Ostler.
"You have to be fearless, it's not something you can teach yourself, you do it or you don't. It's probably something you get from your background. Growing up, everyone I played against played the game hard."
To no one's surprise, the king of plate blockers is being asked his opinion on changing the rules following the Posey injury.
"When something like this happens it's unfortunate, but I don't know if there's enough there to rewrite the rulebook."

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