Wednesday, December 11, 2013

San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey was impetus for new MLB rule v home plate collisions

12/11/13, "Will new rule keep All-Star catchers behind the plate?" USA Today Sports, Jorge L. Ortiz

Buster Posey, May 25, 2011
"Catchers sustained 10 of the 18 concussions that forced players to go on the disabled list in 2013.

In the last year alone, All-Star catchers Mike Napoli and Joe Mauer have exchanged the so-called tools of ignorance for the relative safety of first base. The San Francisco Giants hear calls from fans and news media pleading them to move 2012 NL MVP Buster Posey, who sustained a season-ending leg injury in a May 2011 collision, to another position.

With pitching reasserting itself as baseball's dominant force in recent years and scoring markedly down, the value of hitters of their caliber has increased, along with the need to keep them healthy. And, while reduced, the dangers of baseball's most rugged position won't be eliminated by the new rule.

Mauer did not sustain his concussion on a collision but rather as result of a foul tip. The aftereffects of the injury, which occurred Aug. 19, knocked him out for the rest of the season. The post-concussion symptoms lasted until late October, and in November the Minnesota Twins announced they would move the three-time batting champion to first base permanently.

Will other clubs with offensively gifted catchers follow suit?

"I think it's something people are going to start thinking about,'' Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We need Joe Mauer on the field. Yes, he's a great catcher in the league, but we need him on the field. We can't keep watching him get beat up like this and sitting on the sidelines while we're trying to get better.''

The issue of how to preserve the offensive contributions from good-hitting catchers is hardly a new one. Hall of Famer Johnny Bench, arguably the greatest catcher of all time, hardly ever crouched behind the plate the last three seasons of his career, playing mostly first and third base.

But other factors not present during Bench's playing days – from the late 1960s to the early 1980s – are involved now, namely huge contracts and increased knowledge of the dangers of concussions. The Twins almost certainly won't get full value on Mauer's eight-year, $184 million contract, which runs through the 2018 season, with him at first base.

The Giants signed Posey to a nine-year, $167 million extension in March, after he had led the club to World Series championships in two of the previous three seasons, in large part because of his ability to call a game and get the most out of the pitching staff.

"He's like an extra coach on the field,'' Giants president Larry Baer said. "Of the nine years, how many are you going to get with him as a catcher? Hopefully all nine, but you figure at least in the near term, because of his age (26), he'll be able to stay at the position. And then in the back end, whatever happens, happens.''

Posey's catastrophic injury when bowled over by Scott Cousins of the then-Florida Marlins – the reigning NL rookie of the year sustained a broken leg and three torn ankle ligaments – provided the initial impetus for the rule change proposed Wednesday.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy became an outspoken advocate for modifying the rules to enhance safety, and he was joined in the crusade by St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, like him a former major league catcher.

"The size of these runners coming in as fast as they are, I just want to try to eliminate any injuries, severe injuries,'' Bochy said in a news conference Tuesday. "And Mike feels the same way, whether it's a concussion or broken ankle, whatever.''

Joe Torre, MLB's executive vice president for baseball operations – and a former catcher himself – was reluctant to implement changes at first but eventually came around.

The lessons from the NFL, which in August agreed to a $765 million settlement of a lawsuit by former players for concussion-related claims, surely sank in.

"I just believe we can't turn a blind eye to what's going on in these other sports,'' Matheny said.
Still, the rule modification is not universally welcome.

Shortly after the announcement, Pittsburgh Pirates backup catcher Tony Sanchez tweeted, "Nothing better than getting run over and showing the umpire the ball. Please don't ban home plate collisions.''

And Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost said he relished collisions when he was a catcher and believes banning them would alter the game.

On the other hand, Yost pointed out how much the Royals struggled when their All-Star catcher, Salvador Perez, missed 10 days between late May and early June due to a death in the family.

In addition to ranking second on the club in batting average (.292) and tying for third in RBI (79), Perez was in charge of handling a pitching staff that had the American League's best ERA at 3.45, and he's regarded as a team leader.

Losing him for an extended stretch would be devastating for the improving Royals.

"He's a rarity because he's a Gold Glove catcher that can hit and be a middle-of-the-order offensive performer and produce,'' Yost said. "To have a kid like him on your club, there's just none out there.'' With the new rule, baseball hopes to keep more like Perez out there on the field." image of  SF Giants catcher Buster Posey being carried off field, May 25, 2011, ap

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