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Home plate collisions of yesteryear were the exception, not the rule

Jul 1, 2014, 10:32 AM EDT

Image (1) 090806_posada_collision.jpg for post 849

Home plate collisions of the past few years and the new rule trying to reduce them have brought up a lot of talk about how, in trying to cut down on the collisions, Major League Baseball was taking away an essential part of the game, one which is ingrained in the minds and habits of catchers and baserunners alike.

But if that’s the case, it’s a pretty new phenomenon. As Jacob Pomrenke at The National Pastime Museum notes, home plate collisions of the Pete Rose-Ray Fosse variety, which are now thought of as a fundamental part of the game, are anything but:

For the first half of the twentieth century, most base runners—even those who skillfully practiced the art of intimidation like Ty Cobb—almost always slid feet-first into home plate. That led to some spikings, like the one described above, but few major injuries like the ones suffered by Fosse and Posey. Though there was often some contact between catcher and base runner, violent collisions at the plate were infrequent.

The rise in collisions came as a result of (a) baseball cracking down on runners going in spikes-high; and (b) a lower offensive era emerging in the 50s and 60s that were occasioned by both an increasing number of large, defense-first catchers who were good at blocking the plate and an offensive context that made one run matter a hell of a lot more than it did in previous decades.

Just a really interesting article about how the game changes organically and how it changes, often in unexpected ways, as the result of alterations to the rules.

  1. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Jul 1, 2014 at 10:39 AM

    The new market inefficiency will be catchers with really long arms

    • Alex K - Jul 1, 2014 at 12:26 PM

      The only problem with that is with really long arms it may take longer to get through the throwing motion. The ability to throw baserunners out is more important than being able to tag them from further away.

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Jul 1, 2014 at 12:29 PM

        REALLLLLLLY long arms and he can jut reach out and tag the runner trying to steal. Mr. Fantastic, catcher extraordinaire!

      • dcarroll73 - Jul 2, 2014 at 12:18 AM

        Hey, I’m a DC guy, how about Jimmy Olsen’s alter ego, Elastic Lad?

  2. DelawarePhilliesFan - Jul 1, 2014 at 10:48 AM

    My sense has always been that collisions – while certainly an occurrence – were always some what rare. So this article makes sense to me

  3. mikhelb - Jul 1, 2014 at 3:16 PM

    “Home plate collisions of the past few years and the new rule trying to reduce them have brought up a lot of talk about how, in trying to cut down on the collisions, Major League Baseball was taking away an essential part of the game”

    Except that most people who do not like the new “don’t you ever attempt to touch a catcher” rules demanded by former catchers to protect catchers who do not know how to block the plate, was that the occurrence was so low it was not needed. They just needed to enforce the rule where it stated that any player blocking a base without the ball in his possesion was doing something illegal per the rules.

    I heard a lot about concussions and how often that happened (actually Craig, you wrote about that, and a lot called that notion BS), but now suddenly “OMG it wasn’t like that”.

  4. hushbrother - Jul 1, 2014 at 4:49 PM

    Here’s an example of the type of collision we’re talking about:

    Game 7 of the 1987 World Series, bottom of the fifth inning (it’s at 1:24:40), Gary Gaetti slams into Cardinals catcher Steve Lake.

    Gaetti was out, and walks away seemingly without a scratch. Lake looks like, well, like Gary Gaetti just slammed into him.

    • randomjoeblow - Jul 2, 2014 at 2:28 PM

      I honestly never understood why that was ever allowed. 1st baseman going high to catch a throw? Tackle him! 2nd baseman trying to turn a DP? Don’t slide, throw a shoulder to his face! It never made sense..

  5. carpi2 - Jul 1, 2014 at 10:07 PM

    The new home plate collision rules were only enacted because of an injury to one of MLB’s rising stars. Buster Posey. Just like how a lot of recent QB contact rules in the NFL were in dircet reaction to recent injuries of high profile QBs.

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