Ford: MLB rule proposal furthers trend of softening sports |

Ford: MLB rule proposal furthers trend of softening sports

There I was, a 13-year-old Little Leaguer, standing in front of home plate on a Western Gateway Park baseball field.

I was a first-year catcher, fresh off a move from shortstop to backstop and still feeling out the position. But there I was in front of that dusty plate affectionately known as home with the ball in my glove and the opposing player barreling toward me from third base.

So much of baseball is reactive movements, and success is contingent upon identification and response in a matter of milliseconds. Identifying the pitch and its location while in the batter’s box, reading a fly ball’s trajectory off the bat, or as a catcher, spotting a runner at first making a move to steal second out of the corner of your eye, making the catch, then in one swift motion rising up and firing to second base are just a few examples.

But at this moment, I was at home plate with the ball in my glove and all the time in the world, just waiting on a runner from third who had committed to scoring despite being woefully misguided in making the turn toward home.

It was eighth-grade Little League (senior division), and I didn’t expect the hulking runner to do anything but slowly trot into my extended glove and accept his fate of being out.

He had other plans. The runner used the third base line as a runway, finally taking off as he reached home plate and flying directly into my chest, sending me soaring into the air, landing with a thud on my back.

I was a football player, so it was far from the first time I had taken a hit, but none the less, I was caught off guard and thrown by the impact. Shaken, dazed and surprised, I lifted my glove in the air, ball still firmly in the web and the umpire emphatically yelled, “Yoooou’re out.”

What a feeling, It is one of my fondest memories on a baseball field. My pitcher rushed to help me up, and as dirt poured from body, the rest of the team joined him in congratulating me on making the play.

Sadly, this part of baseball is on its way out. As noted in today’s Sports centerpiece, the MLB has proposed that home plate collisions be banned from the game. Yet another assault on a game that is known as America’s pasttime but is constantly being tweaked to accommodate today’s reactionary fan base.

I usually side with safety, especially with youth sports and players, and home plate collisions should be banned in amateur sport, but in the MLB, players know the risks, and they get paid millions to take them. Don’t take away a part of the game steeped in tradition and quite possibly the most exciting play in baseball, outside of the home run.

I understand the MLB wants to prevent future concussion lawsuits, cowering in the litigious shadow cast by what’s happening with the NFL and NHL. But those lawsuits are based off of misinformation perpetrated by the sports governing bodies years ago. Today’s athlete has only his/herself to blame if they don’t know the risks. So much information is out there that if you’re getting paid to play, you likely know the risks involved and, therefore, cannot hold the governing body accountable.

By the rules of baseball, a runner has the right to an unobstructed path to a base. However, this right is not granted if the fielder guarding the base possesses the ball or is in the process of catching the ball.

So what is the alternative?

Do runners simply accept their fate as “out” if the ball beats them home? I doubt they will. Do they slide head first into a pad clad catcher? This risks injury to the runner and possibly the catcher still. Maybe we should draw a chalk line that runs perpendicular to home plate like they do in senior softball leagues.

The softening of sport has gotten out of control. At the amateur levels, I’m all for safety. These youth and college players do need to be protected from themselves and the incredibly competitive nature of sports. When there is no financial compensation for the risk, there is no need for it.

But at the pro levels, there is plenty of compensation, and if a pro athlete isn’t willing to take the risk, he should hang up his cleats, open a car wash and dominate his local rec softball league.

But professional sports draw billions of dollars each year, and that’s because fans come out in droves to see the best athletes compete against each other in a test of physical and technical ability. We wear the jersey of our favorite gladiators and cheer them to victory. We are in awe of their physical prowess and willingness to leave it all out on the field. So why the need to soften the rules? Because Buster Posey got hurt? That guy returned a year later after his injury to win the NL MVP and batting title and help the Giants to a World Series victory. Needless to say, it worked out.

And how many home plate collisions have really ruined careers? In baseball, most of the injuries occur on plays that often have no player-to-player contact. Do we ban those plays also? Pitchers took some batted balls off the head this past season. Should the MLB enforce an equipment rule that all pitchers must wear helmets when they throw? It’s better for the shoulder and elbow to pitch underhand. Should the MLB outlaw overhand pitching?

According to, home plate collisions can cause a multitude of injuries but represent a small percentage of injuries that affect baseball players.

“While most baseball injuries are far less dramatic than those occurring at home plate, they are often as debilitating in the longer term,” according to the website. “Baseball has historically placed significant emphasis on training programs that stress the repetition of various physical movements in the development of throwing, hitting and base-running skills. The sport has a correspondingly very high incidence of injuries resulting from an overload on the ability of a structure to endure the repetitive movement, particularly arms and shoulders … The overhand throwing of a baseball by a pitcher is an unnatural motion for the elbow and the shoulder to endure. For this reason, pitchers sustain more injuries than any other baseball player.”

In 2013, 18 players landed on the seven-day DL for concussions and 10 of those players were catchers. Let’s put this in perspective. There are 30 teams in the MLB, and each plays 162 games for a total of 2,430 games. Each game has a catcher for both teams, so there are 4,860 different opportunities for a catcher to get hurt during the season. And only 10 catcher concussions occurred. That means in less than 1 percent (0.2) of chances result in catchers getting concussions.

With this in mind, I ask — is this really a problem, and where does the softening of sport end?

To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email

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