Posey's injury shouldn't lead to rule changes
Baseball doesn't need to protect catchers with knee-jerk reaction
Traditionally, when it comes to rule changes, baseball isn't into knee-jerk silliness. So I'm guessing those in charge of the game won't panic with new guidelines regarding plays at home plate. After all, there was that nasty but legal collision last week that knocked San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey out for the season courtesy of a torn ankle.
Just leave the rules alone.
Otherwise, Major League Baseball will turn into the National Football League or something.
"Yeah, because if they start adding special rules for catchers when it comes to bang-bang plays at the plate, it would be as bad as what they do in football, when they put red jerseys on quarterbacks, and then they tell you that you can't touch them if you're a defender," said Brian Jordan, nodding, because he knows what he's talking about.
In addition to 15 years in baseball through 2006 as an aggressive outfielder and baserunner, Jordan spent the latter 1980s as a bone-rattling strong safety for the Atlanta Falcons.
That was before the NFL's avalanche of rule changes to "protect" the quarterback. It happened gradually.
Even before Carson Palmer followed Troy Aikman, John Elway and many of his predecessors by grimacing a little and then a lot after getting smacked to the ground by defenders, there was gasping among members of the NFL Rules Committee. They eventually made enough changes over the years to push their product closer to flag football.
Never mind that during the neanderthal days of the NFL, when the Fearsome Foursome, Purple People Eaters and Steel Curtain folks had few rules during their ruthless pursuit of quarterbacks, the Johnny Unitases and the Fran Tarkentons rarely left the field.
Consider, too, that neither helmets nor facemasks back then were as advanced as they are today.
"Still, if you look at what's happening now, the quarterbacks are getting hurt more, and it's hurting other players [on defense], because they can't play their game," said Jordan, who works an announcer for Atlanta Braves telecasts these days. "It's crazy to me. You don't want to see one of the top quarterbacks go down, but it's part of the game. Everybody knows it, and those quarterbacks know it."
Catchers are like quarterbacks, by the way. They both should expect to get rocked during games. In fact, once you decide to crouch slightly more than 60 feet and six inches away from pitchers for a living, you should know that it's a decent chance that somebody might try to knock one of your shoulders out of its socket during a close play at the plate.
Such was the case before and after Pete Rose won an All-Star Game in extra innings for the National League 41 years ago when he crashed into catcher Ray Fosse at the plate.
"Now that was a dirty play," said Jordan, causing the world to spin backward with his remark. For one, Jordan was a modern-day Rose when it comes to playing hard at all times. For another, there was that moment in 1999 at Shea Stadium, where Jordan played for the Atlanta Braves and knocked New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza toward the Hudson River during a play at the plate to disrupt a double-play attempt.
Said Jordan, "It was me playing hard and extending that inning. I know I was the most hated man in New York after that."
Bobby Valentine would agree. He is now a broadcaster for ESPN, but he was the Mets' manager back then. "And, yeah, I remember the play," Valentine said, pausing, while threatening to clinch his teeth. But don't get the wrong idea. He doesn't believe Major League Baseball officials should intervene in these situations by telling a runner to do ... what, exactly?
Yell to the catcher as you charge down the third-base line before telling him that you're thinking about running him over? Attempt to slide around the catcher, even though he is blocking the plate (in other words, just concede the out)? Stop somewhere between third base and home plate and take your chances in a rundown?
"Here are some other questions," Valentine said. "Are you also going to have new rules for collisions at first base when the first baseman comes up the line and the runner is charging? Are you going to have new rules for guys who take people out at second base?
"What should be discussed is that the idea and the mentality that a catcher is supposed to block the plate is a dumb mentality."
Now that's a brilliant suggestion. It really is, since Valentine is among the few who knows that this current mentality of catchers blocking home plate comes from a lack of knowledge.
The practice goes back to the pre-1950s, when the catcher's mitt was basically a small pillow covered in leather. You needed two hands to hold the ball in place. As a result, instead of old-time catchers taking a chance of having their hands exposed to somebody sliding into the plate, they would counter with their entire body.
Courtesy of significantly upgraded equipment, that technique hasn't been necessary for catchers in decades.
"These days, they have all kinds of mitts with single and double breaks in them, and those mitts can hold the ball on plays at the plate as well as an infielder's glove," Valentine said. "So why can't a catcher just catch the ball and tag a guy out? The catcher can do it just like a second baseman or a third baseman does it. But first, the mentality has to change. Then, after you do that, you have to teach kids to do it differently."
Kids won't do it differently until they change that mentality, and that mentality is a synonym for "macho" among catchers.
Speaking of which, catchers join middle linebackers, power forwards and goalies as the most macho positions in team sports. And macho isn't a catcher standing away from the plate for a throw from the outfield before swiping at the leg or the hands of a sliding baserunner.
Well, that's not macho yet.
"We've got to start teaching these kids that their teammates aren't going to think something less of their manhood because they're tagging the guy out as opposed to blocking him from home plate," Valentine said. "I managed for 22 years, and I never wanted my guy to sacrifice his whole body when he could tag the guy out. What's the sense in that?"
There is no sense in that. There also would be no sense in baseball doing more than just shrugging over Posey's injury.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.