Most are aware by now, last week San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey was on the wrong end of a crushing full speed collision. Giants’ fans collectively held their breath as he laid on the ground writhing in pain. The worst case scenario became a reality as a fractured fibula and severely strained ankle ligaments have effectively ended Buster’s 2011 season, clouding what looked like a very bright future for the young catcher.
This incident has sparked national dialogue over whether Major League Baseball should modify its rules in order to prevent this kind of injury to catchers. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a catastrophe like this to shed light on a neglected issue and force a league to take action for the greater good.
The potential for a serious injury from a big hit to a stationary player should come as no surprise. I’m assuming that most have seen a football game before, and thus would know that quarterbacks (whether stationary or not) are put at serious risk of injury from a charging defensive linemen almost every play. Nearly every week during the NFL season countless QBs go down with injuries. The game of football necessitates this kind of contact as it is by definition a contact sport. Thus, to make the game a safer place by eliminating this level of contact (with injury potential) would fundamentally change the game itself.
As one quarterback after another succumbed to injury, many pressured the NFL to take action. Yet, the league continued to essentially sit on its hands. The apparent final straw was the season-ending injury to Tom Brady during the 2008 NFL Season. The following year, the NFL implemented a series of policies designed to help protect the quarterback. The subsequent on-field penalties and increased fines for unnecessarily dangerous hits have thus become collectively known as “The Brady Rules”.
In a sense the NFL said, “you can still hit the man, but you will pay the price.” It’s impossible to discern the direct effect of these changes, but common-sense dictates that the problem has been lessened to some extent. At the least it has caused defensive players to think twice before they come full force at the quarterback with reckless abandon.
The analogy is by no means full proof, but at its core it addresses the problem baseball is facing in the aftermath of the Buster Posey injury. Either run the risk of future injuries to appease baseball purists, or construct a way to protect players without compromising the sport itself. A so called “Posey Rule”.
Obviously the easiest way to avoid injuries caused by big hits is to do away with the hitting itself. For football, this was never a realistic option. Do you think millions would tune in every week to watch two-hand touch? Probably not. Football is a contact sport. To do away with the “contact” would be changing the game of football as we know it. A solution needed to be crafted around the violence.
Unlike football, baseball does not pride itself on being a contact sport – therefore not encountering the same problems when attempting to make alterations to the rulebook. You can take the big hits away from baseball and you’ll essentially have the same on-field product. In a sense the game boils down to four distinct elements: pitching, fielding, batting, and base running. Is a high speed collision an indispensable part of any of these? No it’s not. Plain and simple.
I can see an argument for base running but that’s easily defeated. To score a run you need only touch home plate. Last time I checked there was no rule in baseball requiring that a runner MUST knock over the catcher. On the contrary, playing defense in football requires that you tackle the ball carrier, necessitating a collision of some capacity. Baseball’s primary form of violent play (save rushing the pitcher or plunking a batter) is on just exactly these types of home plate collisions.
The runner always has the option to avoid the catcher’s tag, whether by sliding or by some other evasive maneuver. However, when a catcher completely blocks home plate these means are rendered highly ineffective, whereby ramming him and dislodging the ball becomes the runner’s best chance at scoring. It is important to notice that these evasive means are only of little use to the extent the catcher blocks home plate. Thus, dislodging the ball via derailment is only a “necessary” option when the catcher utilizes his ability to block home plate. Regulate the ability to block home plate, and you can control the need to knock over the catcher.
Any subsequent rule changed in the aftermath of Posey’s injury, must target this problem in the game specifically. A policy that puts the legality of a collision within the catcher’s own control. If he intentionally leaves a clear path to a “sizable” portion of the plate, the runner should not be allowed the option of attempting to dislodge the ball. Should the runner do so, he should automatically be called out and possibly also assessed a fine. On the other hand, if the catcher doesn’t leave enough of the plate open, a big hit is fair game, and he should expect as much. Just as would be the case if someone intentionally stood in the middle of the highway… they take on the risk of serious physical injury.
This would be the entirety of my proposed “Posey Rule”. I don’t think anything else would be necessary.
Applying this rule to the play that injured Buster Posey in the first place would be no easy task. In pictures it looks as if as if the runner clearly had an unimpeded path to a large portion of the plate (below). However, at full-speed it’s difficult to tell if this path became evident in time for the runner to notice.
Under the proposed plan, this would not be for a still frame picture or for instant replay to determine, rather this would be the task of the umpire to make in the heat of the moment. This kind of pure judgment call is already part of their job description. The potential level of difficulty in this determination should be irrelevant. After all, umps are human and they’re not going to get every call right every single time. If this human imperfection hasn’t already led to the downfall of baseball, it can’t be expected to cripple it moving forward.
I think of this policy as being very similar to the “slide rule” the NFL implemented to protect quarterbacks. In football, when the quarterback has the ball he can decide whether he wants to feel the implications of a big hit, or instead avoid any contact by opposing players and slide to the ground. In one instance, the QB might want to refrain from sliding in order to gain an the extra yard or two, but other times, the situation might not be so dire whereas he would be willing to put his health at risk. In any event, he is in control of the risk to his body, not the opposition. The rule is such that if he properly slides to the ground, he is essentially “off-limits” to the defense and any hit he takes would be met with on-field penalty or possibly even an individually assessed fine.
Who knows, Posey might have positioned himself differently if such a rule were in place. In the NFL, teams frequently require their young quarterbacks to avoid the big hit at every opportunity. With the Rookie of the Year Award under his belt, Posey was already on his way to becoming a superstar in the league, and moreover he was perhaps the most important position player on the Giants. This being the case, it’s not a stretch to think that the the team would preach a similar, safer, approach with him around home-plate.
The resulting game would still be baseball as we’ve all come to love it, hardly anyone would notice this change. That is of course besides the players themselves, and the teams who’ve invested millions of dollars in their health.
Baseball officials cannot sit idly on their hands and preserve the status quo. They need to follow the NFL’s approach and find ways to protect their players, and by association the product that is put out on the field. Whether these particular means are adopted or not, some sort of action must be taken.
Buster Posey, is lost for the year. Without him the Giants as a team are much worse off. What’s done is done, and we must move on. For Giants’ fans it’s very difficult to put a positive spin on this injury. They should at least take solace in the fact that it has people talking about improving the game of baseball itself, which will hopefully create some sort of “Posey Rule” to benefit future generations of ballplayers.
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Written by D L