The "Sissification" of Baseball
The title of this article was inspired by a play that most baseball fans have probably heard about and seen; Los Angeles Dodgers player, Chase Utley, sliding into Mets shortstop, Ruben Tejada. No, you have not gotten to the wrong page. Yes this is a post about catchers, but it is more about the culture of baseball today. It is sad that I am only 29 years old and over my lifetime I have witnessed the culture of American baseball completely shift, and in my opinion the shift is not a good one.
I want to first take a look at the slide by Utley. There has been talk on both sides of the debate that it was a dirty slide and that it was not a dirty slide. My stance on the matter is this...Utley slid too late. I do not think he meant any harm by the slide nor do I think that he was being malicious in his slide. But from a technique standpoint I think it was poor execution. His slide started too late in my opinion. Although I believe he started his slide too late, he went in hard which is exactly what a baserunner is supposed to do. Go in hard and break up the double play. The problem I have with the whole situation is that the media was quick to say that MLB needs to change the rules on sliding. This brings me to what I really want to talk about which is the slide rule at home plate.
Many of us remember May 25, 2011 when Buster Posey was involved in a collision at home plate against the Marlins. He ended up with a season ending injury from the collision. Because of that, people were screaming for a rule change and eventually they got one. I have a problem with that rule change though. Partly because of the claim that it is meant to protect the catcher and partly because I think it shows a complete sissification of baseball. I am all for protecting players but the truth of the matter is that the rule is protecting an investment. These guys are getting paid a lot of money to play baseball and if they miss time due to an injury then that costs money. There have been plenty of catchers trucked and injured at home plate in the past, that is a part of the game. So if you make a risky investment then you have to be ok with that investment getting hurt. It is the same as drafting players for millions of dollars and those players never getting to the big leagues. An investment is a risk.
Here is why I really dislike the rule change. It takes the responsibility to protect oneself away from the catcher. If you watch this play over and over again you can see the runner is not only trying to run through the catcher but he is also protecting himself. Notice that he lowers his shoulder and turns sideways for impact. Had he gone face first they would both be injured. Had he slid then Posey very well may have sustained an injury anyway. We don't know what would have happened. Something I do know is that Posey is in a bad position for blocking the plate and taking a hit from the runner. Every catcher needs to know in the back of their mind that if there is a potential play at the plate then there is a chance of getting trucked by the runner. I caught for 18 years of my life and I learned a hard lesson when I was 12 years old that not every runner is going to slide as the rules indicated at the time. I had a kid who was about 100 pounds heavier than me throw me to the back stop on a play at the plate. From that point on I knew that no matter what, I was going to be ready for a runner to truck me even though at the amateur level the rules demand for them to slide. I was not going to rely on a rule to protect me. I took responsibility for my own protection. That is exactly what catchers need to be taught and that is exactly what catchers need to do.
If you take a closer look at this play and remove all emotions from the equation you will see that Posey did nothing to protect himself. Forget the fact that he got hurt and that it looked like a really hard hit. Simply look objectively at the technique used by Posey (who was not even a catcher in college when I played against him) that is exposing him to an ugly injury. He is down on one knee with his lower half turned toward the field instead of the runner. Many will argue that he had to be in this position because the ball came from right field. Not true. My first year in pro ball I received a throw from the wall in right field in a playoff game to tag a runner out at the plate who was trying to score from third. I weighed about 185 pounds and the runner was bout 225. Before the play ever happened I knew that if I had a chance for a tag play I was going to get myself rocked. Since I had the forethought to realize I stood no chance against the bigger runner I set myself up in a way that kept me safe and the runner was only able to clip my left thigh with his knee as I rolled out of the tag and got him out. I was left with a dead leg for a few minutes but nothing that made me miss any playing time. I had at least 10 plays at the plate where the ball came from the right side of the field and I got into the same position each time to avoid a serious injury.
What needs to happen is catchers need to be taught, from the beginning, the proper technique to get an out at home plate and protect themselves in the process. We cannot just put a guy behind the plate because he can hit and not teach them how to be an effective catcher. When I played, I used a few different techniques to keep myself safe on plays at the plate. One thing I always made sure of was that my hips were square to third and that my left foot and knee were pointing directly up the third base line. If you do that you will drastically cut down on injuries at the plate. If you are on both knees as a runner comes in to score you are a dead duck unless you are able to do it like Mike Scioscia did it back in the day. Also, when there is a play at the plate a catcher has to rely on his "internal clock" and have good feel of where the runner is at all times. That way the catcher knows if he needs to stay at home or if he needs to go out of harms way because there is no chance for a play.
As long as there is baseball played, there will continue to be plays at the plate. And as long as there are rules, rules will be broken. So if you are a catcher, the best thing you can do is to figure out how to make a play at the plate without getting severely injured and always assume the runner is going to break the rule. If you assume the runner is going to take you out then you will naturally get in a better position to take a hit.