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Mike Matheny wants to improve catcher safety

Mar 2, 2013, 9:30 PM EDT

St Louis Cardinals Photo Day Getty Images

Throughout his playing career spanning 1994-2006, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny was known as one of the toughest players in the game, hearkening back to the older days of baseball. He suffered somewhere in the neighborhood of 25-30 concussions, according to Anthony Castrovince. If anyone would be against changing MLB’s rules to favor a “softer” game, it would be Matheny.

Surprisingly, Matheny does want MLB’s rules regarding home plate collisions changed.

“I understand old-school, and I consider myself an old-school player, as far as the way I go out and the way I was taught the game,” Matheny said. “[But] I just don’t see the sense in it.”

The growing sentiment for change comes as a result of an ugly injury Giants catcher Buster Posey suffered in May 2011 when Marlins outfielder Scott Cousins collided with him at home plate. Posey suffered a fractured leg and torn ligaments, ending his season. Others, including Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, have been hit hard since.

Major League Baseball, as much a business as it is a game, suffers when star players like Posey are unable to play. Thus, it would seem to be in its best interest to establish rules that would eliminate superfluous, risky plays like home plate collisions. If change is to be made, however, the “tough guy” culture must be perforated.

Joe Torre, MLB’s executive vice president of baseball operations and also a former catcher, has opposed such change. Indians manager Terry Francona is also a proponent of the status quo, and more are likely to come out as the debate rages on. The players, who often suffer through injuries and use terms such as “man up”, are just as likely to fight against change, especially if it means having to work to change playing habits.

  1. vallewho - Mar 2, 2013 at 9:37 PM

    I think they have the option (if self preservation is a priority) of getting out of the way.

    It makes more sense to me to make blocking the plate be illegal. You have a runner trying to score (the whole purpose of the game), and you have the most heavily protected-armored-equipped player on the field purposely getting on the way.

    • Kevin S. - Mar 2, 2013 at 9:50 PM

      It is illegal. Umpires need to start calling interference.

      • paperlions - Mar 2, 2013 at 10:20 PM

        To clarify, blocking the plate or impeding a runner in any way WITHOUT the ball is illegal. Doing so while in possession of the ball is 100% legal. Similarly, running over a fielder in possession of the ball in an attempt to dislodge the ball is ILLEGAL. There are no special rules for home plate. A runner would be called out and likely ejected from a game if he ran over a defenseless SS while stealing 2B in an attempt to dislodge the ball….the same rule protects all fielders, including the catcher.

        There is no need to change rules, just to enforce the current interference and obstruction rules.

      • Kevin S. - Mar 2, 2013 at 10:23 PM

        Yes, that’s correct. I was referring to blocking the plate without the ball, because that’s when the catcher tends to be the most defenseless.

      • vallewho - Mar 2, 2013 at 11:06 PM

        A common “play” that I see all the time is for the catcher (in-the-process-of or anticipation-of-catching-the-throw coming his way) positions or outstretches his leg (hard shin guards) over a section of the plate. I always see this as a great danger to the runner who most likely will be sliding and quite likely make contact with the shin guard.

      • blacksables - Mar 3, 2013 at 6:43 AM

        Firstly, is has nothing to do with legal/illegal. It’s not a court of law. A play is either within the rules, or its an infraction of the rules. Yes, I’m being pedantic, but knowledge is power.

        Secondly, it is against the rules to deny a runner free access to a base. The fielder has to allow the runner a chance to reach the base safely. This is why infielders don’t block bases. It’s against the rules.

        A catcher blocking the plate (with or without the ball) is against the rules. If the runner has no option but to go through the catcher (he is not required to go around), then thats what the runner has to do.

        So before Matheny starts complaining about safety for catchers, he needs to complain about catchers playing by the rules. its a self-inflicted wound.

      • zipsports - Mar 3, 2013 at 8:00 AM

        A fielder with the ball in hand, does not have to allow free access to the base. If a 3rd baseman takes a throw from the outfield, he can stand with the ball blocking the runner’s path to 3rd base. He can stand right there in front of the base with the ball. He doesn’t have to stand off to the side of the base and try to apply a tag. They usually will do that in so that they don’t get spiked, but they do not have to move.

      • paperlions - Mar 3, 2013 at 9:02 AM

        People being pedantic is generally annoying, but when you are being pedantic and wrong…that is really annoying.

        The definition of the word illegal is not restricted to laws created by a state, the word applies to set of official rules or regulations (many sports actually have “laws” and not “rules”). So you are wrong, plays in baseball can correctly referred to as legal if they are within the bounds of the rule book and illegal if they are not.

        Then, of course, you are unfamiliar with the rules themselves as a fielder in possession of the ball is permitted to impede the progress of a runner. A fielder without the ball who obstructs a runner is guilty of obstruction (including a catcher who blocks the plate in any way before he receives the ball).

    • garlicfriesandbaseball - Mar 3, 2013 at 3:09 AM

      Of course everyone seems to forget that Posey wasn’t blocking the plate. Slow Mo clearly shows Cousins veering left out of the baseline charging Posey. He explained later he thought Posey had the ball and was trying to dislodge it. There doesn’t need to be a rule change. It’s the umpire’s responsibility to take charge, which they rarely do. If they starting throwing guys out of the game for violation of rules that are there to protect the players, as NFL has done, it would stop.

      The Scutaro-Holliday fiasco is another example where the umpire could have taken charge. They keep referring to that play as a “Holliday slide” which is ridiculous. He didn’t slide. He literally jumped feet first over the bag directly aimed at Scutaro with the intention of interferring with his throw to first. Dangerous stuff.

    • garlicfriesandbaseball - Mar 3, 2013 at 3:16 AM

      You may have a heavily protected guy standing at the plate, but he’s in a stand-still position, crouched, while the runner barrelling towards him is charging full force with all the momentum.

  2. rejamaro - Mar 3, 2013 at 8:59 AM

    Change the rule to make baserunners slide into home. There is no reason that a baserunner should be able to barrel into a catcher like he is making a tackle. Hell, defensive backs get fined and suspended for doing the same thing against a wide receiver. Why should they be allowed to do this against a defenseless catcher? Your are tought in little league that you can not run over a catcher or you will be thrown out of the game.

    • stlouis1baseball - Mar 4, 2013 at 9:16 AM

      Rejamoro: You might taught that in today’s little league.
      But I was never taught this. I ran over the catcher blocking the plate…every single time! I once bowled into the 2nd baseman for blocking the bag. The ball was dislodged and I was called safe. The Umpire said…”you were coming in a little hard weren’t you son.”
      I replied…”yes sir,” helped the kid up and gaving him a pat on the back. I did this my entire career. In fact..when going home I was taught by my Father that I had every bit as much right to that plate as the Catcher (if he was blocking it). This served me very well in high school. By that time…the jig was up and opposing teams new this. There is a difference between head hunting and hard nosed base running. If a Catcher blocks the plate he better expect a collison.
      The way to avoid this would be to not block the plate.

      • rejamaro - Mar 4, 2013 at 12:54 PM

        Well Stlouis1baseball, this aint 1970 and Pete Rose barrelling into Ray Fosse and essentially ruining his career. There is really no need for it. With the knowledge we have today about concussions there is no reason that play should not be outlawed. This is not football. Just because that is the way you were taught does not make it right. And it is taught that way in little league, not only because it is right, but because it is the rules. And in this case it is time that the major leagues follows little league instead of vice versa.

    • stlouis1baseball - Mar 4, 2013 at 1:05 PM

      Oh I hear what you are saying Rejamaro. I truly do.
      And I wasn’t talking about 1970. You are making the assumption that I am a guy in my 50’s or 60’s.
      Although I feel like it sometimes…I am not quite there yet. LOL! Still got another 10 – 15 years.
      I stand by what I posted. That may be the case in today’s little league. And perhaps it should be.
      But I will state it again…if a Catcher (anyone for that matter) is blocking the plate and/or bag they better anticipate a collision. Otherwise, don’t block the plate.
      Cause’ again…a baserunner has as much right to that plate or bag as the Catcher or infielder.

      • rejamaro - Mar 4, 2013 at 1:23 PM

        I agree with you to a certain degree. If the catcher has the ball and is blocking the plate, the runner should not have the descretion to barrell over the catcher to jar the ball loose. The runner should be called out. If the catcher is blocking the plate without the ball then the runner should again avoid the collision and be called safe due to interference by the catcher. I understand playing hard nosed, but I think this is a play that can and should be regulated out of baseball. As I have always taught the kids, “The smart ones play baseball”. That is a football play and would like to see it gone. (But I also have never understood the fighting in hockey but I degress), And by the way, I am only 6 months away from 50, as much as I hate to admit it!

  3. stlouis1baseball - Mar 4, 2013 at 9:09 AM

    Sables: “knowledge is power.”
    Yes…knowledge is power.
    For this reason I am going to advise that infielders block the bases reguarly.
    Be it someone sliding into 2nd or 3rd on a steal attempt or someone diving back to the bag on a pick off throw.

  4. elcomputo - Mar 4, 2013 at 4:43 PM

    How about this?: If the runner has rounded third base and cannot get back to the base in time, the catcher can put the runner out by touching home plate. It could be even more exciting than the tag/collision because how many throws have you seen from the outfield or the relay man that pull the catcher off the plate?

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