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COMMENTARY: MLB Makes Right Call on Home Plate Collisions

Charles E. Sutton | 12/16/2013, 11:59 a.m.
Courtesy photo

You normally wouldn't think of an All-Star game as a catalyst for changes in rules and safety measures. No matter the sport, the contest isn't much more than a glorified exhibition game with little hint of a competitive edge. Unless, of course, you're talking about Major League Baseball's All-Star Game in 1970.

For those who don't know, it's the one where Pete Rose barreled into catcher Ray Fosse on a close play at home plate. It was a fierce, violent collision that left Fosse with a separated and fractured shoulder. Some baseball analysts dubbed it "the collision heard 'round the world."

Fosse never healed properly and suffered chronic pain, while Rose took significant flak for crashing into Fosse because, after all, it was just an All-Star game.

There have been several wicked home plate collisions since then, most notably one involving San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey that forced him to miss more than 100 games. But the Rose-Fosse incident remains the most famous, partly because Rose — whose "Charlie Hustle" reputation portrays him as the ultimate competitor — was lauded by some for making a solid, fundamentally sound play, despite the light-hearted atmosphere of the game.

But of course, the aftermath of such brutal hits aren't pretty, as Fosse and Posey can attest. And for decades, many fans have expressed concern about the collisions and encouraged MLB officials to rid the game of these types of plays. Finally, the league has decided to take action.

The rules committee voted Wednesday to wipe out home plate collisions — a move that comes too late for some but is welcomed nonetheless.

The specific wording of the new rule and how it will be enforced have yet to be determined. Once the language is completed, the rule will be forwarded to the owners for approval next month and subsequently to the players union. Pending union approval, the rule will be effective for the 2014 season. If the union chooses not to approve, the owners could unilaterally impose the rule for 2015. In either case, a major rule change is on the way.

The change likely won't be easy or, let's face it, very much fun. For all of its inherent danger, it's one of the most exhilarating plays in the sport.

But it's also one that's had its day and sorely needs to go.

In many of these instances, the catcher is defenseless as he focuses on receiving the throw to home from his teammate. Meanwhile, the base runner zeroes in on the catcher and ultimately runs through him, often causing serious bodily injury. That isn't what baseball needs, and certainly not what it wants.

But the rule change will likely seem a bit counterintuitive at first. As a former baseball player myself, I was taught to do all I could to score, including running through the catcher if necessary. I can't help but wonder, given that players have been trained to get to the plate despite the catcher's presence, how they will adjust to having to avoid a collision at home.

But adjust they will — and must, for their own good. And as fans, we eventually will, too.

Admittedly, I've always enjoyed the physical aspect of sports. But I agree that some plays are too physical to not be seen as a rule violation. After all, the NFL got rid of the bump-and-run and the NBA eliminated hand checking. (What's next, no fighting in hockey?)

Clearly, the winds of change are blowing in professional sports. Once the winds quiet down, we'll be left with sports that are safer for its competitors. That's the type of change I can live with.