Column: Catching a break

John Browne
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It was an idea whose time has finally come.
The only question that jumps out at you is: why did it take so long?
I’m talking about Major League Baseball’s decision to ban home plate collisions in 2014.

I’ve always wondered why a runner coming from third base could tee off on a catcher with impunity.

Of course, on some occasions, the runner came out second best. But when you have to have one eye on the ball and the other on the charging runner, you are at a little bit of a disadvantage.

Having said that, I enjoyed those hits as much as I enjoy hockey fights.

According to MLB, the exact language and how exactly the new rule will be enforced is subject to final determination, but it looks as if runners wil be called out if they make contact with the catcher while on their feet. They could also face a fine or a suspension.

The proposed change by baseball’s rules committee, which, notes MLB, still needs to be detailed and approved by the team owners and the players union may make for some more interesting changes.

For example, what about contact plays at second base?

Will the unofficial ‘phantom tag’ be eliminated — especially with video review — next year?

But as far as home plate collisions are concerned there are some cold, hard facts that can’t be ignored.

Stats show that catchers sustained 10 of the 18 concussions that forced players to go on the disabled list in 2013.

Clearly MLB sees a growing problem and wants to take measures that reduce the chance of any injury in the game.

Hall of Famer Joe Wadden, who played for 20 seasons with Holy Cross and St. John’s Capitals teams, was a catcher who was known for, shall we say, giving more than receiving when blocking the plate as a runner tried to score against him.

“A glove and ball is such a dandy weapon at times,” said Wadden almost gleefully. “You can give a guy a pretty good root.”

Even Wadden, who figures he went around with a concussion for about 10 years, feels the times are right for the new rule.

“I mean, honestly, who was I going to hurt if I ran into them at the plate?” noted the diminutive Wadden.

“But you take a look at some of these guys now and they can do some real damage. They are all big and solid as a rock.”

Wadden said if you put in the “slide and avoid” rule, at least you are only hitting the catchers in the legs.

“You can break his two legs, but don’t give him a concussion,” Wadden said with a laugh.

Wadden says the “slide and avoid” rule has been in Canadian amateur baseball since at least the early 1990s and that rule calls for the runner to be ejected if he makes contact with the catcher.

It wasn’t that way when Wadden played the game.

“I remember a junior baseball game when someone flattened Wayne “Moose” Moores at the plate and up she went. It was crazy.

“The runner doesn’t have to come in standing up. You can still get a good whack out of it on a good slide. I remember Peter Cornick (another catcher) hit me on a slide and I could feel it through my shin guards.

“I’ve seen Peter get flattened at the nationals in B.C., but he was so tough he was able to hold on to the ball,” said Wadden.

One thing hasn’t changed. Catchers, like goalies, are different.

Now they’re protected.

Organizations: Capitals

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