May 28, 2011 3 Comments
As a Giants fan I am obviously biased but I agree with Rob Neyer here. Why are baserunners allowed to slam into a catcher who doesn’t have the ball? Would they be allowed to slam into a first baseman who doesn’t have the ball? A pitcher? What exactly about a catcher standing somewhere near home makes it ok to slam into him? Isn’t that just assault?
But I’d go one further. The ‘legitimate’ reason for a baserunner to slam into a defensive player is that he is holding a ball trying to tag you out, and you’re trying to get him to drop that ball.
Why is it legitimate to slam into a defensive player to try to get him to drop a baseball? I don’t understand the merits of including such methods into normal baseball. The skills baserunning plays are trying to bring to bear and test/reward are things like running fast, good fielding, accurate throws. Rewarding a runner for “knocking the ball out of his hands” only makes sense if that’s the sort of skill the sport of baseball is designed to test and put on display. Is it?
This has bothered me from both directions too, because (as Neyer writes) an escalation has taken place: baserunners try to slam into catchers because catchers are allowed to interfere with baserunners. I don’t understand why either is allowed.
Back in the ’80s, annoying and mediocre hitting catcher Mike Scioscia of the Dodgers was often praised for his ability to “block home plate”. When someone was trying to score this means Scioscia would squat and put his legs down across home plate in an attempt to obstruct the runner from being able to touch it without either smashing into him or acrobratically jumping over/around him. This is how he would set up to receive a throw – i.e., before he had the ball. And TV announcers would gush with praise over it.
Literally, this means Mike Scioscia was being praised by all his wonderful baseball fans for breaking the rules of baseball: blocking a baserunner from running down a basepath (particularly when you don’t actually have the ball) is against the rules of baseball. On every single of those “tough” plays where Scioscia saved a run by “blocking home plate”, according to the rules of baseball (the game he was playing) he really should have been called for defensive interference, and the run should have been awarded. I don’t mean to pick on Scioscia here (I have no tangible evidence he was even the worst offender at this in the first place, it was just his reputation); it’s just that it always bothered me that Scioscia became a semi star almost solely on the strength of this perceived skill. And then went on to manage the 2002 Angels who…but I digress.
Obviously now I can be accused of pro-Giants bias from both directions so let me just quote and agree with Neyer:
Baseball was not designed, and is not best played, as a contact sport.
In my view
1. The baserunner owns the basepath, and any defensive player who tries to “block” him, holding the ball or not, should be called on it and the runner awarded the next base.
2. Players can’t and shouldn’t physically assault each other. “Knocking the ball out of his hands” shouldn’t be a legitimate aim of a baserunner (whose job is to try to evade and run fast, not to assault). A baserunner who gets tagged but “knocks the ball out” should just be called out anyway – this should remove the incentive.
Point 1 is actually what I believe the rules of baseball actually say. Point 2 probably requires a rules amendment but is just sensible.
So I realize this will be a tough sell. But to baseball fans I say, suppose both 1 and 2 were enforced regularly and consistently. To the point where fielders had no incentive to try to block a baserunner and baserunners had no incentive to try to assault fielders. Now, please tell me what is the downside? You really think those home plate collisions are an awesome part of the game and want to keep them? Can you think about and articulate why? What exactly would you miss about them?
The career-ending injuries?