The official Major League Baseball rule states, “The catcher, without the ball in his possession, has no right to block the pathway of the runner attempting to score. The base line belongs to the runner and the catcher should be there only when he is fielding a ball or when he already has the ball in his hand.” – Comment on Rule 7.06 (b)
San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey knows the rule; a homeplate collision is an inherent risk for both the runner and the catcher. Posey, and every professional catcher, accept the risk that they are one sacrifice fly away from being the next Ray Fosse.
Fosse is one-half of baseball’s most notorious homeplate collisions. Now, 40 years after being run over by a train called Rose – Pete Rose, that is – in the 1970 All-Star game, Fosse was asked what he thought after Scott Cousins of the Florida Marlins knocked Posey literally into next season.
“Unnecessary,” said Fosse. “I think he could’ve gotten to the plate without doing that. I just think if you give the runner part of the plate, and if the runner is going to do it correctly, he slides toward that part of the plate. Catchers are very vulnerable.”
Fosse was hit so hard by Rose it permanently damaged his shoulder. Now an Oakland Athletics broadcaster, Fosse said he suffers from painful arthritis.
“I still feel it,” he said. “From time to time, I wake up and it’s killing me.”
Fosse is biased. A homeplate collision changed his career – and his life. The same can be said for Posey’s manager Bruce Bochy, who was a major league catcher for nine years (1978-1987). The Giants manager was upset by the hit.
“I know it’s part of baseball,” said Bochy, who pushed Cousins away from Posey after the play. “I was a catcher. I understand that. But we have to consider something that would protect these guys from runners coming with that kind of force … there’s so many who have gotten hurt … had their careers ended or shortened.”
The collision broke a bone in Posey’s left leg and tore three ligaments in his ankle. The collision raises the question, where Major League baseball should reconsider a rule that’s been in place for more than 100 years.
“The game has been around more than 100 years, and now they’re going to start protecting catchers?” Fosse asked rhetorically. “This is professional baseball. The idea is to score runs. If the catcher has the ball and he’s standing there, the runner has to stop? Is that the protection? I can’t believe anything can be done.”
“You can’t just have a guy out there defenseless like that,” argued Giants broadcaster Duane Kuiper. “I stood out there defenseless at second base for 10 years until they changed the rules about guys sliding with the sole intent of taking somebody out. So they can change it at home plate, too.”
Wait a minute, defenseless? Posey is wearing a mask, a helmet, a chest protector and shin guards. A runner approaching homeplate has no protection and one goal: touch homeplate before the ball gets there. If the catcher blocks the plate, as the rule states, “the baseline belongs to the runner.”
Like it or not, it’s the rule. The play was fair, the hit was clean and just because this sort of incident happens every other generation, the rule should not be scrutinized, or changed for that matter.
“It’s just like breaking up a double play,” said Mike Scioscia, former major league catcher now manager of the Los Angeles Angels. “Running into a catcher, the catcher’s going to stay there and try to block the plate, which you have the right to if you’re fielding the ball. And the runner obviously has a right to dislodge it.”
“What do you want them to do? Make guys wear tennis shoes? It’s a Major League Baseball game,” added Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona.
Cousins has no regrets, other than the fact Posey was injured. He said he would have avoided contact if he saw a “clean lane” to slide, but he didn’t. So Cousins lowered his shoulder and boom.
“I knew I hit him really hard,” he said. “It is part of the game, but it’s a hard-nosed part of the game. You can’t change it. I wanted to knock the ball clean out of his glove, but I certainly didn’t want him to get hurt.”
In a conference call with San Francisco reporters Friday, Posey said Major League Baseball and the players’ union should look at ways to protect catchers at home plate, then added, he was not angry with Cousins.
“I hate what happened, but it was a clean play,” said Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow.”The law of the land. It was a hard, aggressive play, and hell, it won the game for them. What, you change the rules so no contact is allowed? No way to do that. Tell you what, though, when I pitch against that guy (Cousins), I drill him. Oh, yeah, I’m smokin’ him. That’s legal, too, last time I checked.”
Legal? I don’t see it in the Major League Baseball rules, but that never stopped Bob Gibson.