Catcher Collision Ignites Baseball Rules Debate

Buster Posey's injury gives some second thoughts about home-plate hits.

May 28, 2011— -- It's one of the most dramatic and violent plays in baseball: The collision between a base-runner trying to score, and a catcher blocking home plate and desperately trying to hold onto the ball.

But after leaving one of baseball's promising young catchers with a severe injury, a collision last week has ignited an emotional debate: Should baseball's rules be changed to finally take these crashes out of the game?

Catcher Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants, the National League's rookie of the year in 2010, suffered a leg fracture and torn ligaments when Florida's Scott Cousins barreled into him at home plate in the 12th inning of the Marlins-Giants game Wednesday night.

Cousins scored, and the Marlins won. Posey was taken off the field and placed on the disabled list, his season likely over, the Giants' hopes of repeating as World Series champions diminished.

"There are so many catchers that got hurt at home plate, missed a lot of time, shortened their careers or even ended their careers, and the way guys are coming in now, maybe we need to consider" changing the rules, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.

Former All-Star catcher Bob Boone, now an assistant general manager of the Washington Nationals, disagrees. He said outlawing these collisions would fundamentally change America's Pastime.

"We don't want the guys to get hurt. Of course we don't. But it's part of the action of the game," he told ABC News.

The debate about eliminating such collisions has raged before, but it's occurring now at a time when there is more sensitivity to player injuries in all sports. The National Football League, for example, has taken several steps to crack down on violent hits.

And in this age of eye-popping baseball salaries, some say teams must do more to protect their players, who have become valuable assets.

To measure the impact of these collisions, ESPN recently had a stuntman run full speed into a crash-test dummy posing as a catcher and rigged with sensors. The runner was clocked at 18 miles per hour. The sensors registered 3,200 pounds of force, an impact worse than a blindside football hit -- and with much less padding.

The results can be devastating. A collision last year ended Cleveland catcher Carlos Santana's season.

Then there was the play at the plate in the 1970 All-Star Game, rated by the MLB Network as the No. 1 collision in the baseball history. Pete Rose barreled over Cleveland Indians catcher Ray Fosse to score. Fosse arguably was never the same player afterward.

Posey's agent, Jeff Berry, already has reached out to Major League Baseball and the players' union, raising the idea of a rule change.

"You leave players way too vulnerable. ... It's stupid," he told ESPN's Buster Olney.

St. Louis Manager Tony La Russa also endorsed a rules change to banish collisions. And Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman called for banning such collisions in spring training games.

Surprisingly, many catchers -- even Ray Fosse -- are among the loudest voices urging saying the rules should be left alone.

"The game has been around more than 100 years, and now they're going to start protecting catchers?" Fosse told the San Francisco Chronicle. "In high school, you can't run over the catcher. But that is high school. 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?"

Boone is especially outspoken, saying if Posey had been better positioned at the plate, he would have greatly reduced his chance of injury.

"When I saw that felt very bad -- very bad for Buster," Boone said. "But then my immediate reaction was, 'Gosh, how did you get into that position? That's ... jeez, kid.' You know, I look at that and I say, 'You got yourself hurt; it wasn't the guy who got you hurt."

Boone added that he's not against studying whether the rules should be changed, but that he doubts he could support the idea.

"It's in every sport that we have, there are dangers there," he said. "There are dangers for a jockey climbing onto a horse. Do we just let the horses run by themselves and save injures? We see it in football. If we took the pads off and just played flag it be a lot better. We wouldn't have so many injures but it's part of our society. It's why it's so attractive to us, I think."