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Ban on collisions at home a complicated issue

The Rays’ Desmond Jennings plows into Indians catcher Lou Marson, the type of play that MLB officials hope to end.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

The Rays’ Desmond Jennings plows into Indians catcher Lou Marson, the type of play that MLB officials hope to end.

One year before Carlton Fisk famously waved his home run fair at Fenway Park in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, his career nearly ended.

In the ninth inning of a tie game on June 28, 1974, the Indians' Leron Lee scored from first on a double and collided with Fisk, who was blocking the plate.

The Red Sox catcher tore several knee ligaments and was told he would never play again. Yet he did, started using a swipe tag and played for two more decades in a Hall of Fame career.

The Major League Baseball rules committee voted last week to outlaw home plate collisions, yet Fisk isn't in favor of it.

"To try to eliminate them or soften them would be like the junior high girls where you have to slide," he said. "Come on. We're all adults, we're men. You stand in front of the plate, you're going to get run over. … Rather than eliminate that play, you've got to bring attention that one run isn't worth losing your leg or losing your career."

Player safety is a major reason why baseball is moving toward ending the exciting but dangerous play. The concussion crisis that has engulfed other sports has played a role, with Cardinals manager Mike Matheny — whose career was cut short by concussions — an outspoken advocate. When Giants catcher Buster Posey broke his leg in a 2011 collision, it sparked more conversation.

Language and enforcement are being determined, and the rule must be approved by owners and the players' union in January. If it is, it will go into effect next season. If not, it could be unilaterally imposed for 2015. Either way, the change is coming, and Giants manager Bruce Bochy, a former catcher, believes it's long overdue.

Bochy said his support is not just because of Posey, who missed most of that season. He recalled how Gary Bennett, whom he managed with the Padres in 2003, was bowled over by the Dodgers' Brian Jordan, a former NFL player.

"I'll never forget looking over at him thinking, 'This is a time to make a change here,' " Bochy said. "It wasn't a cheap shot. … I thought (Jordan) paralyzed him at first because he really got smoked at the plate. And I said right then, we need to change this play … because the catchers aren't protected for this type of hit."

Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, part of the rules committee, acknowledged that making the policy effective and practical can be complicated, though it has been done at the high school and college levels. The main point is to treat home plate like second or third base, with tag and not contact plays. The runner must be given a lane by the catcher, who risks an obstruction penalty and potentially a fine or ejection. A runner could face similar consequences if he has a path to the plate and runs into the catcher instead, though there are safety concerns for runners if they must slide feet first.

"It's a double‑edged sword," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "You try to protect one side and then you hurt the other side. Then you put the umpires in a position where they've got to make another decision that maybe they shouldn't. … If you said you've got to slide at the plate (and) if you don't slide, you're out; well, the catcher's going to take advantage of that. The catcher is going to say, 'Okay, I know he's got to slide, but I'm going to sit on the plate.' "

Several managers who used to be catchers wonder how the instinctual part of what is usually a bang-bang play can be removed. The Angels' Mike Scioscia, who said he was once knocked out in a collision, said it used to be a "badge of honor" to block the plate. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he missed games after being run over a couple of times but thought it was part of his job: "I enjoyed the contact."

Former catcher and manager Buck Martinez, who broke his right leg and dislocated his ankle in a 1985 collision with the Mariners' Phil Bradley, said standing in there and saving a run was like "hitting a home run."

Elliot Johnson's takeout of the Yankees' Francisco Cervelli, breaking the catcher's wrist, in spring training 2008 was thought to be one of the galvanizing moments in the Rays' World Series season.

"I am a little bit old school in the sense that I don't want to turn home plate into just another tag play," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "This is a run. This is the difference between possibly making the playoffs and not making the playoffs. It should matter a little bit more. In my mind, I'd love to see something that if there's a collision, any hit above the shoulders, maybe the runner is out. I don't know how it's going to pan out."

Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he has seen two or three guys go after his star catcher Matt Wieters "maliciously," which is why he's in favor of eliminating the collisions.

"You can make those plays without putting your body on the line," Scioscia said. "I think that's what the game is trying to get to."

Around the majors

TRADES: The Braves acquired catcher Ryan Doumit from the Twins for left-hander Sean Gilmartin. The Rockies reacquired left-hander Franklin Morales from the Red Sox for infielder Jonathan Herrera and sent left-hander Josh Outman to the Indians for outfielder Drew Stubbs. The Orioles got outfielder David Lough from the Royals for infielder Danny Valencia.

PADRES: Former Tigers closer and ex-Ray Joaquin Benoit agreed to a $15.5 million, two-year contract.

Information from Times wires was used in this report. Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com.

Ban on collisions at home a complicated issue 12/18/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 18, 2013 10:29pm]
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