A few weeks ago, ESPN the Magazine ran an issue that discussed the dangerous side of sports. Topics from bullfighting to gymnastics were covered, pinpointing the danger that is either inherent or adopted in each competitive sport.
Within days of that issue hitting the newsstands, Buster Posey was involved in a collision at home plate which ended his season and might have a long-lasting effect on his career. This brings up the question – should certain plays be banned in sports if they have the potential for danger?
Sports are Risky, But they Don’t Have to Be
No matter what sport you are participating in, there is always the potential for danger. Some sports, like Nascar, football and motocross are inherently dangerous, meaning there is an increased risk of injury due to the nature of the sport. Other sports, like baseball and basketball are not inherently dangerous, but certain plays can adopt more danger than the sport normally affords. Home plate collisions are one of those plays.
The NFL Sets a Precedent
A few years ago, the NFL banned horse collar tackles. The injury sustained by Terrell Owens because of a horse collar tackle prompted the NFL to take a look at its rules to ensure that the game remained as safe for all participants as possible. In the last decade, the NFL has made countless rule changes to ensure (or at least enhance) the safety of its players. Asking for a rule change in a major sport is not unheard of; in fact, it is crucial to the longevity of the game.
Safety of Players is Great for the League
Sports don’t make their money off of die-hard fans. There is a constant supply of people who will watch sports on TV or in person, buy jerseys, and paint their face. No, the success of any sport is their ability to draw in the casual fan, those that without a specific reward will not choose to watch sports. The chance to watch a specific player or an epic sporting matchup (i.e. the SuperBowl) is usually enough to bring these casual fans into the sporting world – even if just for a moment. Having a big star like T.O. out hurt the NFL, and the league took precautions to see that the chances of that happening again were reduced.
Why Baseball is Reluctant to Change
Now MLB has one of its brightest young stars in Posey out for the remainder of the year. Will they do anything to ensure that this doesn’t happen again? Probably not. Baseball is a sport steeped in tradition and unwritten rules. It effortlessly combines the blue collar mentality of football, with the finesse of a low-contact sport like basketball. You could argue that baseball has more unwritten rules than it has down on paper (and that’s saying something). Baseball is a game of pride, and often of ego. Showboat after a home run and you might get hit your next at bat. Don’t slide in hard to break up a double play and you might get benched.
The actions and retaliations that I grew up learning to respect are now looked down upon as some sort of Neanderthal behavior – and the harder I look, the more I agree. There is a lot of self-policing in baseball. Brushback pitches, bench clearing brawls, hard slides, etc. But these are taking place at the expense of the greater good of the league.
Baseball Needs to Change its Rules
Old fans of baseball don’t see a problem with these things and I’m here neither to rebuke nor condone any actions of baseball players around the league. But I am here to say this… Without a major rule change regarding home plate collisions, baseball will remain in the dark ages. As athletes become bigger, faster, and stronger, their collisions on the field and on the base paths become more and more dangerous. Owners, who have invested millions of dollars in these athletes are starting to encourage their players to avoid collisions. The owners are recognizing that something needs to be done, but it is an uphill battle. If catchers start avoiding collisions at home plate, managers will find someone willing to step in and take the hit. Players will hear the grumblings and whispers of teammates behind them, and fans will ostracize them for being too soft.
A rule change will let players avoid all of that while keeping them safe. If the league changes the rules, players won’t have to make the decision on whether to hang in, take the hit and risk injury; or let the player pass and risk a rain of boos. Baseball needs to do something, for the fans and for the players.