Momentum builds to protect catchers on collisions
Former backstops Bochy, Matheny to address Playing Rules Committee
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- For Bruce Bochy, the a-ha moment came 10 years ago, when he was managing the Padres. In the bottom of the sixth inning at Dodger Stadium, while scoring from first on a double hit by Fred McGriff, Dodgers outfielder Brian Jordan barreled into San Diego catcher Gary Bennett, leaving him motionless in the dirt.
"I'll never forget looking over at [Bennett] and thinking, 'This is the time to make changes.' It wasn't a cheap shot, [but] I thought he was paralyzed at first, because he really got smoked," Bochy, now the Giants' manager, said Tuesday at the annual Winter Meetings.
For Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, whose career was ended prematurely by a series of concussions, the realization dawned more gradually.
"It's something that I probably haven't done a good enough job of really bringing to the forefront," Matheny said. "I never did. I didn't want to be the poster child. But I started thinking about our players and their health. It's something that I want to be part of moving in the right direction."
It has taken some time. But Major League Baseball is about to take its most in-depth look at what can be done to protect catchers from collisions at home plate.
Bochy and Matheny, both former big league receivers, have been invited to speak to the Playing Rules Committee on Thursday afternoon at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort. General managers and managers can attend, and any suggestions they have will be welcomed.
It's unclear how quickly changes can be implemented, but Bochy, for one, hopes they can be in place for 2014.
"I am expecting a change, hopefully before the season starts," he said.
One possible snag is that there doesn't seem to be any real agreement on exactly how catchers should be protected. Bochy suggested something modeled after the collegiate rule.
"I see it along the line of how college does it," Bochy said. "They pretty much become more tag plays. The question is going to be: Can the catcher get in front of home plate and block it with a shin guard? You don't want that either if the runners are there. These are things that all of us will talk about, put our heads together and see if we can come up with the right way, the safe way to do this."
There does, however, seem to be more focus than ever on this issue. Giants All-Star catcher Buster Posey missed most of the 2011 season after suffering a gruesome leg injury in a collision. This offseason, the Twins announced they were moving Joe Mauer from behind the plate to first base to help prolong his career.
"I'm proud of [MLB] for taking a step forward," Matheny said. "I don't know how it's all going to play out. But people who know me know my stance on this. I just believe it's something that we can't turn a blind eye to, what's going on in these other sports. Let's learn from what's going on there and see if we can make our sport better. The way we do that is try to lessen the risk to all of our players. So it's exciting that it's on the docket, and it's on the right page.
"This has been going on for a while. Once again, I don't think it's completely sparked by anything that's happened in baseball as much as what's happening outside of baseball and how it's impacting people and impacting the welfare of each sport. So I think that's something that we've got to take very, very seriously."
Matheny will talk from firsthand experience when he addresses the Rules Committee.
"I think it's maybe just giving them another perspective and bringing it to reality," Matheny said. "We don't see baseball necessarily as a contact sport. But with how often we play, when those contacts do happen, there is usually some pretty negative ramifications that come when you jump right back in the saddle. It's just something that we need to continue to be educated on, and some people's experiences will help move us in that direction."
To be fair, not everyone in baseball feels the same urgency as Bochy and Matheny. Royals manager Ned Yost, also a former catcher, is one.
"I grew up with collisions at home plate," Yost said. "I used to look forward to them a little bit as a catcher. I'm kind of biased on that. I think, you know, that it's kind of like football. ... Football has always been a violent sport. When you try to take some of the violence out of it, it changes the game.
"But with that being said, do I agree with it? I don't really know. But the one thing I do know is that I trust Major League Baseball. I trust the recommendations, and when they've got a reason to do something, it's always well thought out and well planned out. If that's what they want to do, I'll support them."
For Bochy, the issue is simple.
"I don't think the catchers are protected as much as they should," Bochy said. "The size of these runners coming in as fast as they are, I just want to try to eliminate any injuries, severe injuries. Whether it's a concussion or broken ankle, whatever.
"From what I am hearing now, they're open-minded, and hopefully we'll get the plays at the plate changed where we do knock out these collisions. I think most of us feel that isn't a big part of the game anymore. There's been adjustments everywhere, and I think it's time in baseball that we do change the rule and protect these catchers."
Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, for one, is a strong proponent of change and is cautiously optimistic that progress is at hand.
"I think there is some momentum to take a hard look at that," he said. "Obviously, we have Yadier Molina, who is probably the most elite player at that position. And we want to do everything we can to keep him on the field. It does seem a little odd that everywhere else in the game of baseball, you can't [run into the fielder]. But at the professional level, you can. From our perspective, we would like to see that rule change.
"It's just injury risk. I think as payrolls continue to climb, teams realize that so does DL time. Any way you can help to minimize that is worth it. It's not that collisions are happening often. But when they do, they tend to have a more dramatic effect in the injury world.
"I think there would be enough time to do that [for 2014]. You'd have to go in front of the Executive Committee and propose it to the Players Association. I think it could possibly get done. I don't recall seeing a lot of pushback [at the General Managers Meetings]. From just a simple economic standpoint, you know how I'm going to vote."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.