|What you see above has no place in baseball. (Getty Images)|
As previously covered in this space, Cardinals catcher and NL-MVP dark-horse Yadier Molina took the worst of a Tuesday night home-plate collision with Pirates infielder Josh Harrison. Here's an action-footage reminder ...
"Clean play. Clean play. ... That's part of baseball. He did what he had to do and I did what I had to do. It (stinks) because you don't want anybody to get hurt. This time, it was me to get hurt."
Based on established practice, yes, it was a "clean" play. (Although some Cardinals presumably thought different, since, in a bit of Tony La Russa-style psych-ops, Harrison was plunked later in the game, which resulted in a mutual warning.) Still, it's another part of Molina's statement -- that it's "part of baseball" -- with which I take issue. Self-evidently, it is part of baseball as we see above. However, it shouldn't be.
First and most obviously, what Molina and almost every other catcher do on a habitual basis is plainly against the rules. Please permit me to quote, in Clarence Darrow fashion, the relevant portion of Rule 7.06(b):
The catcher, without the ball in his possession, has no right to block the pathway of the runner attempting to score. The base line belongs to the runner and the catcher should be there only when he is fielding a ball or when he already has the ball in his hand.
Once more for emphasis: This practice, cherished by self-styled "when men were men" types, is against the damn rules. It's a "clean play" only in the sense that the base-runner is responding to the catcher's rulebreaking. It's not, however, a play that should be any part of baseball.
What is perhaps worse is that runners, presumably by rote, feel sanctioned to keelhaul a catcher even if he's not obstructing their path to the plate. You may recall this much-discussed play from last season ...
Moreoever, this touchstone of hard-nosed baseball is a decidedly modern indulgence. Here's what Bill James, the great baseball historian, wrote in 2001 in his New Historical Baseball Abstract:
I started looking through the guides of the twenties and thirties, looking for home-plate collisions. There aren't any that would register by modern standards. There are plenty of photographs of plays at home plate, and sometimes they run into each other, but not like now.
Let the record show there's nothing "old school" about it.
That's why I applaud what, for instance, the A's have done, and that is urging their catchers, at all levels, to refrain from blocking the plate. If a catcher can't receive and secure the ball in time to make a fundamental swipe tag, then the run scores. Sumo-squatting in the base-line while the right fielder is still settling under the ball has no place in the game because -- once more, from the mountaintop of one's choosing -- it's against the rules.
The advancement of a false old-school ethos is hardly worth it if catchers are having their legs broken and being violently concussed. The game is better if the likes of Buster Posey and Yadier Molina (and Ray Fosse, for that matter) are playing it in relative health. That's why it's long past time for catchers to abide by the rules and for MLB to enforce them. Catchers: No more blocking the plate. Base-runners: No more assaults on those catchers.
If you want to watch or play football, then please do go watch or play football. This is baseball.