One Perspective: Not all home-plate collisions fair play

 Ted Streuli, The Daily Record Newswire

San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey didn’t play in Wednesday’s spring training opener. That’s because the 2011 injury Posey suffered left team manager Bruce Bochy cautious about Posey’s workload.

Posey became San Francisco’s hometown hero when the Giants won the 2010 World Series and Posey was named National League Rookie of the Year. Posey had an even better year in 2012, when the Giants won the World Series again and he was named the National League Most Valuable Player.

But upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat, to quote Ernest Lawrence Thayer, when, on May 25, 2011, Scott Cousins of the Florida Marlins barreled into Posey, breaking the catcher’s leg and foot. Posey missed the rest of the season, and the Giants missed the playoffs.

Home-plate collisions have put so many catchers on the disabled list that they have a new rule to follow: Don’t block the plate if you don’t have the ball. Base runners have a complementary directive: Don’t bowl over the catcher unless he has the ball and is blocking the plate. If the catcher violates the rule, the runner is declared safe. If the runner fails to abide, he’s out.

Posey has been outspoken in favor of the rule change and was asked to provide input for the rules committee. On Tuesday he told reporters the change would help eliminate malicious collisions.

Bochy, who spent his playing days as a catcher for the Astros, Mets and Padres, also spoke in favor of the new rule.

But Boston Red Sox catcher A.J. Pierznyski said he knew the job was dangerous when he took it.

“It’s one of those things, as a big-league catcher, I signed up for it,” Pierznyski told USA Today. “You never want to see guys get hurt, and you never want to see guys go down because of it, but it’s part of the game you signed up for.”

Minimizing violence in sports has become the vogue, particularly since a group of former NFL players sued the league over concussions and walked away with a $765 million settlement in August — an amount U.S. District Judge Anita Brody threw out last month for being too low. You could almost hear the owners’ collective gulp.

Nine former National Hockey League players filed a similar lawsuit in November and were joined by four more former players on Friday.

On Jan. 2, 10 concussion lawsuits filed by college football players were consolidated to a federal court in the Northern District of Illinois.

As Pierznyski argued, there is an assumption of risk when an athlete decides to play a contact sport, but there should also be a reasonable expectation that their employers will mitigate the danger.

In the just-concluded Olympics, the men’s hockey teams played full-contact while the women played a non-checking version of the game. Without the concussion-inducing hits, the game is just as fast and there is more finesse. But in the men’s game, the threat of a 230-pound defenseman hitting you at 30 miles per hour adds an element that is absent from the women’s.

The possibility of the hit, whether on the ice, at the plate or just after catching a pass, means concentration must be impeccable. The player is forced to choose in an instant whether it’s worth it or if it would be better to step out of the way.

If professional sports were a typical workplace, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would have the NFL playing with flags on players’ waists. There’s no reason to take physical contact out of the games, but the players, including thousands of non-millionaire minor leaguers, shouldn’t have to risk lifelong debilitation over pointless collisions.