If you want to have a conversation about home-plate collisions, St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny would be a good guy to speak with. He played catcher for 13 seasons. His own playing career ended because of a concussion. And, he now manages the Cardinals, an organization that has $75 million reasons to care about catcher safety. That's how much it's paying star backstop Yadier Molina.
That's why Matheny admitting he's changed his mind about home-plate collisions is a fascinating about-face. Matheny, who says he considers himself "old school" in his approach to the game, is taking a rather new-school stance. He told MLB.com's Matthew Leach on Tuesday that he thinks Major League Baseball will eventually ban collisions, and now he thinks that's a good idea.
From the MLB.com story:
"... [T]his game will get to the point where there will no longer be a collision at the plate. And I am 100 percent in support of that."
Matheny framed it primarily as a risk-reward matter, explaining that any increase in the entertainment value from collisions is outweighed by safety concerns.
"I'd just love to hear the rebuttal," Matheny said, "because what I've personally witnessed was enough for me to change my mind. It actually took me a little longer 'till I got to the realization of the risk we're putting these guys in -- and the runner, too. The runner is stuck in a spot sometimes where if he doesn't do it, he feels like he's let his team down. Take it out of their hands. This isn't a collision sport. There's enough of a physical grind with guys being out there for 162 games. We've got the physical aspect of this game. It doesn't need to include that one spot."
Matheny says he's requested a meeting with Joe Torre, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, to discuss the matter. They'll be two former catchers, talking about what's become one of the most contentious on-the-field issues in baseball in recent years.
The biggest story, of course, was the season-ending injury to San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey in 2011. But on a closer-to-home level, Matheny surely has to be thinking about the play last August where Molina was injured after an ugly collision at the plate.
Catchers are a lot like quarterbacks, and we've seen everything that's happened in the NFL to keep them safe. There, concussions are the big worry. In baseball, that's a part of the precaution. It wasn't what happened to Posey or Molina, but it's something Matheny knows about all too well.
"We're talking about the brain. It's just been so shoved under the rug. I didn't want to be the poster boy for this gig, but I was able to witness in ways I can't even explain to people how that altered by life for a short period of time and changed the person that I was. It's scary. So that being said, you look at this game, can this game survive without this play? And I say absolutely. You're putting people at risk."
Like it or not, Matheny probably did just make himself a "poster boy" for home-plate collisions. Will having someone like him speak up make a difference? Will the "old school" continue to win out?
It sounds like the type of argument that happens in this country every day: tradition vs. progression. And if politics have taught us anything, it's that there will be a whole lot of arguing before there's resolution.
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