Play At The Plate!

If you have been following the MLB winter meetings at all, you will surely know about all of the free agent signings as well as every team trading players with the Oakland Athletics.  (Billy Beane, you crazy!)  There has also been noise on a different front, not of shuffling line-ups, but a rule change that has people divided:

MLB to ban home plate collisions” – ESPN headline

Baseball Plans to Ban Collisions at Home Plate” – NY Times headline

That’s right, one of the most violent and exciting plays will be put up to vote by the MLBPA and potentially banned by 2015.  As a former catcher in my days of middle school and high school baseball, this has me torn.  On one hand, I LOVED those plays.  I loved the choreography that went into positioning, catching, blocking, tagging, then holding on for dear life.  The best feeling in the world was triumphantly standing tall and showing the umpire the ball still firmly in your grasp.

Lonnie Smith


I am a realist.  This play is not dangerous in terms of physical injuries like broken bones, bruises, and bloodied extremities, but the long-term consequences are coming to light after studies on former athletes’ brains.  Sure, not everyone involved in the play suffers a concussion, but the likelihood of receiving one of these sneaky-yet-devastating injuries is probably higher than any other play in baseball (with exception to purposely head-hunting, though that’s a big no-no).

While these are grown men making adult choices, we are taking about an abstract idea of “x% chance of a concussion leading to long-term brain damage and/or suicide.”  The reality of this choice is but a dream; signing for millions with a clear mind seems more likely and attractive than thinking about the off-chance that you become a washed-up former player, wasting money on painkillers, pills, and psychologists, while you have turned your back on your family, and have nothing to show for your prime other than a mint-condition Topps baseball card worth 50 cents.

Even if you want to still let these young athletes with dreams of becoming a hall-of-famer and multimillionaire make such a huge life decision, there should be something else that doesn’t quite make sense…

Why can a catcher block the plate and prevent a run when no other position can do the same?  Sure, there are some pads that the catcher wears, but padding does not make him a bouncer at St. Peter’s Gate, does it?  That padding has become more vital to foul balls or wild pitches in the dirt, not for a play that happens maybe 3 times a year to a catcher.  If other players on the field cannot block access to a bag, other than with their glove, then why the double standard at home?

Now at this point I would LOVE to go into the stupidity behind “breaking up a double play,” but that’s an entry by itself (maybe when the play is under rule review).

While I understand that there is a “tradition” behind this play, and I see how exciting it is/can be, the double-standards in rules along with the long-term consequences seem to back up that this play is meant to die.  Catchers can still make tags, there will still be close plays with guys sliding into each other, but no more football.  We take pride in our game being so mental, a “thinking man’s game,” let’s not lose that just to duplicate the popularity of the NFL.


What do you think?  Feel the same?  Have different reasons/different perspective?  Let’s discuss.  I haven’t even brought up the “what does it teach the kids?” argument, so if you want to tackle that, go ahead.  This is a friendly environment, one to discuss ideas, whether we agree or agree to disagree; the best way is to talk about it.

PS:  Here is a great link of the “Top 50 Plays at the Plate” via the MLB.  notice how many exciting plays were made without huge collisions?  Those would NOT be outlawed, but would become the norm (no more Posey injuries).  Also, if you will also notice, many of the huge collisions that will no longer be allowed come in the recent era 1990s-today.  With guys being more athletic, bigger, stronger, and with larger bank accounts, both teams are gasping and taking huge risks.


PPS:  Lost is the art of a beautiful and creative slide.  Won’t it be more exciting and a breath of fresh air to see your favorite base-stealer with a fancy hook-slide or do a flip over the catcher?

Looking for some further reading?  Look at this link that describes what CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) is; this is what researchers have been studying in athletes’ brains that have been donated to them once the player has died.  Maybe it’s my aversion to brain-related disease due to my own anxiety issues (which pales in comparison), but I would not wish this on anyone.


11 thoughts on “Play At The Plate!

  1. I was really bummed out learning that the “play at the plate” is being banned. It’s the most exciting play in the game. What gets me most angry is, the catcher really doesn’t have to block the plate if he doesn’t want to. Sure the throw sometimes carries him into harms way, but for the most part it’s under the catcher’s control. And comparing this to the NFL, whose players get it in the head play after play, game after game, to catchers who might have this play happen a couple times a year and might not even be hit in the head is outrageous. I’m sure if it weren’t Buster Posey getting bowled over by Scott Cousins this wouldn’t be an issue.

    • Brendan,

      That is almost exactly how I felt, but obviously things have changed to make me feel differently. I think MLB needs to start making tutorial videos (like the NHL after a suspension) and show us what is acceptable and what isn’t. Plays at the plate will not be extinct, but I hope the all out tackle does go away and the exciting finesse plays come back.

      The lamest excuse (though valid for the owners) is the “he’s worth $XXX million, we’re protecting our investment.” Either care about the player’s health, the fans, or even the children playing the game (examples we set), NOT $ first.

      • Agreed. That’s completely selfish and unreasonable to say “I don’t want my all-star catcher getting injured, so I’m going to vote to ban railroading catchers.” Sadly, that’s how many people are going to make their decision.
        Another thing that should be accounted for is the fact that when the ball beats the runner to the plate the runner will be out xx% more often. MLB is really leaving runners with nowhere to go now. More of them are going to have to slide and concede an out, when the real solution would be for the catcher to take a step outside of the baseline and tag the approaching runner. MLB is over-complicating something that shouldn’t be that complicated.

    • David,
      While I agree that the catchers are choosing to stand their ground, the base runners have chosen to forego creative sliding for lowering their shoulders with one goal: “knock out the ball.”
      What other play in baseball can you be dead-out and be allowed to tackle the ball loose? Catchers did bring some of the blame when they decided to completely block the plate like an armed guard, so this rule change will hopefully be more about elevating and not eliminating. Watch that video, I’d guess that 80% of those plays would still be legal.
      PS: Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m curious, on a scale of 1-10 how big of an issue do you (and others) think this is? For me it’s about a 3, based purely on emotions, otherwise it’s be a 1 – the play rarely ever happens, it’s definitely not an everyday occurrence.

      • You are probably right. No problem for stopping by. You have a good blog! It’s a 2 for me because it doesn’t affect the game dramatically. Just losing the excitement is sad. It’s good that safety is becoming a priority in sports now though. I hope this trend continues.
        -David S.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting; it’s great when people do because then I can check them out and add them to my list of baseball blogs (helps me get my fix). 🙂

      • I don’t really have any “groundbreaking” tips; the only thing that I’ve done is just try to meet similar-minded people and link to them. It’s great to make friends and build community with those on MLBlogs. And when all else fails, tweet your posts – you never know who might find you.

        Most of all, be yourself and choose to write about what interests you. It took me a while to find my voice, but I’m feeling more and more comfortable.

        (Oh, being consistent helps, too. If you go too long without a post people forget, but it doesn’t look like you have that issue.)

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