Major League Baseball made a big move this week in eliminating what has now become a very antiquated and dangerous “play” in the game — that is, the opportunity for catchers to get plowed (and potentially permanently injured) during blindside home plate crashes. As MLB players continue to make physical gains in strength and speed, too many catchers in recent years had become victims of being crushed at home while being blindsided by base runners coming in full speed. Unlike other contact sports, catchers are virtually unprotected and routinely were completely unaware of the timing and velocity of the hits they were receiving, prompting the league to step in and address this concern.
The math was simple on this one: Faster, stronger players + blindside hits to unprotected catchers = a desperate need to change the rule.
Baseball is usually the last sport to adopt contemporary rule changes, often clinging to the old “that’s the way the game has always been played” excuse. Fortunately, rational minds prevailed on this one and the game will be changed for the better long-term. Sure, many of the action plays at the plate were exciting, but I don’t think any fan wants or enjoys seeing a catcher get hit so hard that it jeopardizes his career (or life).
For catchers, this is a move the vast majority will welcome, even if they don’t state this publicly for fear of looking weak. No longer will they have to sweat bullets waiting on a throw from the outfield while a base runner coming full speed prepares to knock them over like tackling dummies. Prompting catchers to improve their “mental toughness” was never the problem; leaving them exposed to a charging locomotive was.
More changes coming?
Now that MLB is improving the safety around plays at the plate, the next discussion will inevitably revolve around intentional hard slides at second base, arguably the second most dangerous play in baseball today. While not an “apples-to-apples” comparison, middle infielders also risk permanent injury while turning double plays as players slide in hard (or worse yet, intentionally slide with cleats high in an attempt to knock the player over). Again, similar dangers exist in that the middle infielders are not protected and often at-risk to blindside hits.
We are seeing a lot more attention to sports safety in recent years, highlighted by football implementing more measures to prevent concussions and head injuries. Baseball, while not typically seen as a hard “contact” sport, runs many of the same risks to injury because of the minimal equipment used coupled by opportunities for blindside hits. It’s my hope that fans see these moves as positive moves (and necessary), and not rule changes that take away from the competitive spirit of competition (or fun for fans). Kudos, Major League Baseball, for a job well done.