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Ray Fosse doesn’t think you can change the rules regarding catcher collisions

May 27, 2011, 9:12 AM EDT

Rose Fosse

If there is one person whose opinion of the Buster Posey injury is worth hearing it’s Ray Fosse. Who, if you’re unaware, suffered a pretty bad injury that seriously impacted his career when, as a 23-year-old, he was bowled over at home plate by Pete Rose in the 1970 All-Star Game.

It’s worth noting, though, that criticism of Rose’s collision with Fosse rarely centers on the notion of whether it’s OK to run into catcher in an absolute sense, but rather, whether Rose was right to do so in an exhibition game.  Indeed, for years you’ve heard this play cited an example of Pete Rose’s style of play, often admiringly, though with some qualification due to the fact that an injury was involved. So basically, no, there has not been anything approaching consistency about when such a play is a hard-nosed play and when it’s something that demands changes to the rule book.

And for what it’s worth, Fosse, in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, said that he is not that impressed with calls to change the rules:

“The game has been around more than 100 years, and now they’re going to start protecting catchers? I can’t see anything that can be changed. In high school, you can’t run over a catcher. But that’s high school. This is professional baseball. The idea is to score runs. If the catcher has the ball and he’s standing there, the runner has to stop? Is that the protection? I can’t believe anything can be done, and I don’t see how you could regulate something like that.”

My first reaction yesterday was pretty much this. Not the part about “the game has been around for 100 years,” because tradition is a dumb reason not to fix something if it can be fixed.  But I do agree that cutting down on catcher injuries is less an issue for the rule book and more an issue for player training. Train runners to look for the open alley to the plate rather than assume they have to hit the catcher (which Scott Cousins could have done).  Train catchers to be content with a swipe tag if it’s available rather than risk bodily injury.

The best it seems you can do from a rules perspective is to give the umpires the authority to call a runner out automatically if, in coming into the plate, he goes out of his way to put an unnecessary hit on a catcher, much the same way that you’d call a runner out for leaving the base line. If you want to add something more punitive to it, eject him and/or make it a postgame disciplinary matter like we do with bean balls.

That still makes it a judgment call on the umpire’s part, and I’m always hesitant to give them more judgment calls, but I think that’s way preferable to a massive tinkering with rules or by banning contact with a catcher in all instances or what have you.

  1. Panda Claus - May 27, 2011 at 9:29 AM

    Catchers block the plate because it’s effective and the risk for serious injury isn’t all that high. I’m not minimizing the catcher’s risk, but given how infrequently these kinds of injuries happen compared to how many runs are prevented, it’s clear that blocking the plate will continue.

    • paperlions - May 27, 2011 at 9:50 AM

      I’d love to see some basis for the “many runs that are prevented”. It isn’t all that common that you see a run prevented BECAUSE the catcher blocked the plate…for that to be true the blocking of the plate would have to prevent the runner from touching the plate while the catcher still had not applied the tag. In general, the catcher either has the ball in time and tags the guy (so blocking the plate had no effect) or he doesn’t and the guy is safe or runs him over preventing him from catching the ball…or he just catches the ball and gets run over, usually dropping the ball.

      There are also some times when a runner would have been safe simply by sliding, because the catcher has the ball but no time to turn or apply the tag, in which the runner gets himself out by running over a catcher that doesn’t drop the ball.

      Anyway, I’ll wait patiently while you accumulate the data on how many runs are saved by the “blocking the plate” aspect of the play and we can weigh that against serious injuries that happen a couple times/year, some of which have lasting negative effects on careers.

      • paperlions - May 27, 2011 at 10:05 AM

        Don’t give thumbs down, feel free to point out how anything in there is wrong. Blocking the plate simply does not save runs, it puts players at risk….guys are out or safe because the ball is there in time or not, not because the plate is blocked. It is a play that is already against the rules and does nothing more than to put players (catchers and runners) at risk.

        The way to give yourself the best chance of scoring is to touch the plate ASAP, not to run over a guy that may or may not have the ball…because the runner has to decide to run over the catcher or not before the catcher has the ball.

      • stottsera - May 27, 2011 at 10:48 AM

        Unfortunately, I don’t have any data. But I have seen plenty of instances in which a catcher sticks his leg in front of home plate so a sliding runner’s hand or foot is delayed by tenths of a second from tagging home plate and the runner is tagged out. If the runner had decided to run into the catcher, he may have scored.
        Running into the catcher takes the possibility of being blocked from the plate out of the equation. When you run into the catcher, you are basically trying to ensure the catcher does not hang onto the ball. And when you are a 200 lb + baseball player running at full speed, I think you have the advantage and the best chance of scoring (in certain situations, of course. I would say at least 95% of plays at the plate running into the catcher is not necessary. The ball and the runner have to arrive at certain times, and that just doesn’t happen that often.)

  2. stottsera - May 27, 2011 at 9:44 AM

    I don’t get the “what Scott Cousins could have done” part. He gave himself the best chance of scoring without breaking any rules. Unless you think he had a better chance of scoring by sliding head first and sneaking his hand on the plate. I would disagree with that.

    • paperlions - May 27, 2011 at 9:52 AM

      Considering that Posey wasn’t between the runner and plate, and that Cousins was already on the foul territory side of the baseline while Posey was standing in fair territory, there was a more viable option for Cousins. If Posey fielded the ball cleanly, Cousins would have gotten himself out by running over Posey, because Posey had no shot at fielding the ball and making a tag to a runner that chose to go to the outside of the plate.

      • stottsera - May 27, 2011 at 10:31 AM

        ” If Posey fielded the ball cleanly, Cousins would have gotten himself out by running over Posey”
        that is not necessarily a true statement.

      • spudchukar - May 27, 2011 at 1:47 PM

        Sorry PL, I’ve watched the video numerous times and we see a different scenario. Somewhere between about 10 and 15 from the plate a runner has to make a decision about his approach to the plate. So does the catcher. Had the throw not short hopped Posey, or had he come up with the throw cleanly, he would have pivoted further, sliding his left leg across the plate, trying to kick the sliding runner off the plate. It is how catchers are taught and it happens often, very often on plays at the plate. Cousins, seeing Posey’s body language reads that the ball is going to beat him, and decides, properly I would suggest, that his best bet would be to jar the ball out of his hand because Posey will have time to block off the plate. What occurred was Posey muffed the throw, his hesitation to locate the throw, tangled his feet, catching a cleat or toe, as he made the move to block the plate and the contact aggravated the torque on his ankle.

        I would like to point out one issue that has not been raised. I am not sure Posey would not have been injured just as seriously had Cousins slid. If he had come in hard, late, sliding forcefully across the plate I could envision a scenario where he jams Posey’s twisted foot directly on causing different but perhaps just as costly a violent torque on the ankle.

  3. thefalcon123 - May 27, 2011 at 10:10 AM

    You can’t have it both ways. The catcher can’t block the plate and expect not to get hit. You can’t address collisions without addressing that. I always found it interesting that only home plate can be blocked. You never see the second baseman standing 3 feet toward first base and making a running go through him to get to the bag…

  4. Joe - May 27, 2011 at 10:24 AM

    Blocking the plate without the ball (or being in the process of getting the ball) is already not allowed by rule. If the umps call blocking the plate – especially a couple of “the runner was out easily but scored because the catcher was blocking the plate” calls – and the practice will stop.

    I’d make the call on the runner simple – it’s allowed to try to dislodge the ball with a proper slide. Hard contact while sliding feet first is OK. Hard contact while sliding head first is OK. Hard contact while putting a shoulder down and plowing into the catcher is not OK.

    • professor59 - May 27, 2011 at 11:53 AM

      About time somebody mentioned this. Posey put himself in position to block the plate, assuming he’d get the ball. When he realizes he won’t get it in time, he should move up and take the throw. It would be nice if catchers would learn how not to get hurt, but it usually takes getting hurt to figure it out.
      I just hope a great young talent like his can get back to the level of play he had.

      • spudchukar - May 27, 2011 at 1:49 PM

        Except that is not what happened in this play.

  5. heynerdlinger - May 27, 2011 at 10:44 AM

    What’s unfortunate in this debate is that it’s now boiling down to “Can the catcher block the plate or not?” when the real issue raised by the Posey injury is whether runners should have the rights within the rules to use any and all force necessary to score.

    Cousins didn’t have to flatten Posey because the catcher was not standing between the runner and the plate. Craig mentions catchers settling for the swipe tag and it looks like that’s what Posey was doing. Cousins decided that he wasn’t going to beat the throw, so his only other option was to tackle the catcher to knock the ball loose. The debate should not be whether contact at the plate is acceptable, but whether there should be any limits to what a runner is allowed to do in that situation.

  6. savoirlaire - May 27, 2011 at 10:51 AM

    Still doesn’t change the fact that Rose is a cheap, crazy MF’er…still wish Bud Harrelson had beaten the crap out of him for going into him with his elbow while losing 9-2 in ’73.

    • theolgoaler - May 27, 2011 at 11:44 AM

      Harrelson and what army? Bud weighed 140 pounds wringin’ wet; he’d have needed major help trying to beat up Pete Rose! (Not that I disagree with your opinion of “Charley Hustle”, btw…)

      • addictedzone - May 27, 2011 at 3:54 PM

        Buddy only made the 140’s before the season got started. Somewhere I still have an old Sporting News article where he credited his added bulk to 140 on the scale in the off season to large quantities of butterscotch ice cream. There was obviously no steroidal benefit to his choice of flavors.

  7. Chris K - May 27, 2011 at 11:14 AM

    I don’t get it. If you block the plate, you get the consequences (positive or negative). It’s unfair to block and then ask the runner to stop and assume the out or have to awkwardly slide-navigate around the catcher. I think Fosse is dead-on.

  8. cur68 - May 27, 2011 at 11:23 AM

    Every time I see replay of Rose hitting Fosse I see a guy who lacks any thought to the consequences of his actions. Same thing with Cousins. He could have got hurt too. What if Posey lowers his head a bit? Then it’s a head to head collision and Cousin’s is done as well. These guys get payed millions to play ball, not sit around in hospitals. I want to see them play not read about how awful the injury was or how long it takes to get over a concussion or repair and heal an ankle.

    Both catcher and baserunner need to avoid that collision. No where else in baseball is that permitted. Arguably its not even permitted coming home, its just not called as interference like it should be. Someone is going to get hurt running over a catcher again at some point this season then we’ll all do this again. Just enforce the damn rule about interference and leave it at that.

    • IdahoMariner - May 27, 2011 at 1:51 PM

      I see that picture of Pete Rose and I think he deserves his weird little frustrated half-in half-out of baseball life. It’s not a picture of someone who “plays the game the right way, no matter what” it’s a picture of someone who has no self-control and clearly enjoys inflicting pain.

      • royalsfaninfargo - May 27, 2011 at 4:07 PM

        great point. rose was an a-hole, and i am sure everytime that a story breaks about how pete rose is trying to get back in the game and cant make it ray fosse must inwardly smile.

  9. Jonny 5 - May 27, 2011 at 11:44 AM

    I don’t think rules need to change either. They just need to clarify what constitutes “interference” better. Plowing over a catcher in possession of the ball should be interference imo, since this is done to knock the ball loose when you’re beat to the plate and basically out. I think completely blocking the plate without possession of the ball should also be interference since it’s to hold up the runner while you gain possession. Enforcing rules on the books and clarifying what constitutes an infringement would help enough that this type of injury would be much, much less. I talked to a college ump this morning and he would have had to call Cousins out, he not only said that, but he also said this should be applied to the major league as well. Only because it doesn’t make sense not too since every level of baseball under the majors teaches you the art of playing home plate that way. For the runner and catcher.

  10. theolgoaler - May 27, 2011 at 11:52 AM

    Once upon a time, baserunners slid feet first into any base, including home; infielders were taught to tag the runner with the back of the glove, because the outside of their wrist was less likely to bleed if (when) they were spiked. Diving headfirst into the bag (or the plate) increases the chances the runner will be hurt! I don’t think anyone is still teaching players how to slide the “three ways” Casey Stengel recommended — sliding on either leg (instead of always the right or always the left) and the late, lamented “hook slide” (slide past the bag and “hook” it with your trailing foot).

  11. Loren - May 27, 2011 at 11:55 AM

    What I’m really curious about is why this type of play is restricted to the catcher and home plate. If it’s OK for a catcher to block the plate, why doesn’t a 2nd baseman block the bag on a steal? Why doesn’t a runner try to bowl over a fielder waiting for him with the ball when he’s caught trying to stretch a double into a triple?
    Clearly the catcher has some protective gear where the other fielders don’t so they might be more reluctant to block the bag, but is it really that much difference? Also the runner would have to get safely back to the bag after dislodging the ball from a fielder’s glove, but you’d think there would be time to do that.
    It seems to me that the bottom line is how the rules are enforced and the traditions of baseball, and if those are the only differences it ought to be possible to make the play at the plate a lot more like a play at second base.

  12. stottsera - May 27, 2011 at 12:13 PM

    The 2nd baseman blocks the bag all the time. Runners don’t run over 2nd basemen b/c they have to stay on the bag. That seems so obvious.

  13. scatterbrian - May 27, 2011 at 1:06 PM

    You pretty much nailed it Craig.

  14. explodet - May 27, 2011 at 1:53 PM

    Technically, leaving the baseline isn’t an out. It’s only an out if the runner leaves the baseline to avoid a tag.

  15. sirgoogie - May 27, 2011 at 8:00 PM

    If it’s o.k. for a guy like Cousins to blast the catcher or any other player who is not blocking the plate, then why don’t we just say it’s o.k. for a catcher to turn and deliver a karate kick to the runner to knock him off the plane of the plate and then walk over and tag him while he is on the ground. Or if a guy like Cousins, who is clearly more interested in taking out the catcher than actually making sure he touches the plate, missed the plate let’s let another member of the defense come over and pin him to the ground or stomp on his hand with spikes as he is crawling back to touch the plate. While the teammate is preventing him from getting to the plate someone else can come over and tag him. Let’s just make it a free for all at home plate, anything goes to score or keep someone from scoring. What a game.

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