It was a surprise announcement at the Winter Meetings, but a good one: Major League Baseball is preparing rule changes to cut down on home-plate collisions for 2014.
It’s a play that can end and alter careers, as Ray Fosse, Mike Matheny and Buster Posey can tell you. And with concussions a hot topic in the sports world, MLB went all proactive and announced that changes would start in 2014, per MLB.com:
The decision to eliminate collisions didn’t become a serious topic of conversation until last month at the General Managers Meetings, but the idea quickly caught fire. Managers Mike Matheny of the Cardinals and Bruce Bochy of the Giants, both former catchers, led the push. Both spoke on the subject and others in attendance were asked for their input before the measure was passed.
The exact language of the new rule has not been written. The final draft will be approved by the Rules Committee and then submitted for a vote at the next quarterly Owners Meetings in January. Finally, it must be approved by the Major League Baseball Players Association. Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, chairman of the committee, is confident all that can be accomplished before the 2014 season opens.
The primary consideration is player safety.
Player safety has been a growing concern not just in baseball, but in all of sports. The NFL, after much prodding from players, started addressing the issue of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) caused by concussions. Now, after a season where 18 players ended up on the disabled list with concussions (including 10 catchers, including John Jaso, David Ross and Joe Mauer), the issue is being addressed by MLB.
Now, not all concussions are caused by home-plate collisions. Placido Polanco took a pitch to the head and ended up on the 7-day disabled list due to a concussion. Take, for example, the three Minnesota Twins affected by concussions in recent years. Corey Koskie suffered a concussion after taking a tumble in the field in 2006; he tried coming back but ended up retiring in 2009. Justin Morneau almost called it quits after suffering multiple concussions. And Joe Mauer ended on the 7-day disabled list after taking two foul balls to the head, causing a concussion. In none of the cases was a concussion caused by a home-plate collision.
Take the sad case of former Cincinnati Reds outfielder Ryan Freel, who took his own life a year ago and was diagnosed posthumously with CTE. Freel was known for playing out of control at times: he’s the guy who would try to run through the outfield wall to chase down a home run (literally; he took down a fence in winter ball and — surprise — suffered a concussion), the guy who would plow into the catcher to dislodge the ball at home plate. He is the first former MLB player to be diagnosed with CTE, and his family was on hand at the Winter Meetings when this new policy was announced. There’s no clear connection between baseball and CTE — Freel’s first concussion came at the age of 2, and he also suffered from alcohol abuse — and Freel certainly was more reckless than the average player. From The New York Times:
There is no way to say his neurodegenerative disease was the cause of his death or the tumultuous 10 years prior to his death,” said Dr. Bob Stern, a neurology and neurosurgery professor and a co-founder of Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy.
Stern said he was initially skeptical that a baseball player would develop the disease. Then he learned during the investigation not only about Freel’s history of collisions with outfield walls and other players but that his first of several concussions unrelated to sports may have occurred at age 2….
“I don’t think baseball is going to become a high-risk activity for C.T.E.,” he said. “I don’t think parents should immediately say: ‘That does it. My kid should not play Little League.’ ”
Pete Rose, whose unwarranted takedown of Fosse forever altered the catcher’s career, predictably railed against the rule change to Fox News:
“What are they going to do next, you can’t break up a double play?” Rose said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press after MLB announced its plan Wednesday.
“You’re not allowed to pitch inside. The hitters wear more armor than the Humvees in Afghanistan. Now you’re not allowed to try to be safe at home plate?” Rose said. “What’s the game coming to? Evidently the guys making all these rules never played the game of baseball.”
Former catchers and current MLB managers Joe Girardi, Bruce Bochy and Mike Matheny attended the MLB press conference and endorsed the idea.
The NCAA banned home-plate collisions in 2011.
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