Growing up, my younger brother and I used to play a game we called “play at the plate.” The rules were simple: I’d throw a tennis ball in his direction, wait until he caught it, and then come crashing into him, doing my best impersonation of Pete Rose at the 1970 All-Star Game. If he held onto the ball, I was out. If I knocked him hard enough on his butt and the ball came loose, I was safe. It was great fun. For me, anyway.
So forgive me for getting a little sentimental when Major League Baseball announced it was taking steps to eliminate collisions at home plate. Those plays are just plain fun to watch: the oufielder fires a missile — maybe the toss takes one hop. The catcher waits, the runner from third charges down the line, and you can just sense that the ball and the body will arrive at the same time. Then … BOOM. After tumbling over, will the catcher raise his glove, ball in hand?
This moment of suspense is one of the most exciting plays in baseball, and baseball needs more, not less, excitement. The average length of games has grown. The TV audience is getting older. The occasional collision at least spices things up a bit.
Plays at the plate are violent, as the broken leg sustained in one in 2011 by San Francisco Giants catcher and reigning MVP Buster Posey reminded everyone. Eliminating them will no doubt make the game safer and potentially reduce the risk of concussions. But these collisions are relatively rare; it’s not comparable to the NFL trying to tone down the violent hits that happen on every play.
All sports have inherent risks. In baseball, a pitcher throws a ball as hard as a rock in the close proximity of a player’s head at 100 miles per hour. There’s potential for severe injury on every single pitch. Why legislate this particular risk? When asked for his reaction to the new rule by the Associated Press, Rose got it right. “What are they going to do next, you can’t break up a double play?”
Bring back the play at the plate.