Opening day for Major League Baseball was March 30, and one thing you’ll see less of this season is home plate collisions thanks to a new rule that limits how a runner and catcher collide at home plate. This is a good start to limit injuries and concussions.
Rather than ban home plate collisions outright, the MLB and its players adopted a rule limiting them. The rule, sometimes called the “one year experiment,” allows collisions if the catcher, or any player for that matter, has the ball and is blocking the runner’s direct path to home plate, but a runner attempting to score may not move from the base path in order to initiate contact with the catcher. The runner also cannot lower his shoulder or push through the catcher with his hands, elbows or arms.
The key to beating concussions and other needless injuries begins and ends in rules like these because they minimize exposure. Baseball is not a collision sport and was never meant to be. Although not every collision at home plate results in an injury, intentional collisions at home plate are a recipe for disaster and have caused too many injuries. The rule wasn’t meant to prevent exciting close plays at home plate, or even contact during a close play. It was meant to protect the players who are involved with those close calls by limiting some of the factors that can lead to the more violent collisions. We don’t allow runners to intentionally collide with the first baseman or at any other base, so it shouldn’t be allowed at home plate.
Debate about plate collisions has intensified since 2011 after San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey was injured after a runner crashed into him at the plate. Posey was an All-Star catcher and suffered a season-ending injury that, if this rule was implemented at the time, may have been avoided. As someone who has worked with and treated athletes whose seasons and careers have been cut short because of injuries, I believe a rule that is intended to increase player safety is a “no brainer.” It emphasizes exactly what should be emphasized — prevention.
Some argue that there isn’t any recent record of a player’s career being ended or shortened because of a collision at home plate. That may be true, but we know that when it comes to concussions, damage can be cumulative and may not show up in its entirety for some time. We know that many players either don’t report, or under-report, concussion symptoms. So, there are probably many more concussions occurring during these violent collisions than are reported. We also know that once a person suffers a concussion, it is easier to suffer another.
Other detractors say that rules like this take away from the most exciting play in baseball, or it will decrease the masculinity of the game, or even it’s just a knee-jerk reaction to the NFL’s concussion saga. But MLB and the players association should not be criticized for taking a pre-emptive approach to minimize concussions. We know more about sports-related concussions now. We know both the short- and long-term implications of concussions and how they can have a debilitating effect on a player’s season, career and life.
Although there is no guarantee that the rule will prevent injuries, it was implemented with the right goal — to minimize injuries resulting from intentional collisions at home plate. It’s a good start for MLB and should be a permanent rule in the game.
Brian Farr is director of the Athletic Training Program and a senior lecturer in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education at The University of Texas at Austin. He is a nationally certified and state-licensed athletic trainer and has worked with professional, collegiate, high school and recreational athletes for nearly 20 years.