By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) Mike Matheny is the ideal champion of a noble cause, and he has decided to take up the fight.
The Cardinals’ manager saw his career end due to multiple concussions, and has now seen enough of home plate collisions to call for their removal from Major League Baseball. With pointed comments yesterday to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Matheny left no room for ambiguity.
“I do believe that this game will get to the point where there will no longer be a collision at the plate,” he told the paper. “And I am 100 percent in support of that. Can this game survive without that play? I say absolutely.”
He has already campaigned to baseball officials to accomplish this, and will be speaking with MLB’s Joe Torre as well. His belief is that home plate can be treated like any other base where a tag is applied. His Cardinals catchers are coached to leave the back side of the plate unblocked as they await the throw, and to avoid seeking out unnecessary contact when they get the ball.
MLB should take heed, and implement such a ban immediately.
There is no purpose served by the play, and no valid case for the inherent risk to continue. The old-timers and snarling tough-guys will grouse for a while about their rough-and-tumble game being sissified by weaklings and lawyers, but that noise will fade fast.
There will be incongruent comparisons drawn to the head-injury issues of the NFL and NHL, too. In those sports, we pay to see high-speed impacts essential to the action, influencing the outcome. Football’s soul is the collision, and hard hitting is vital to hockey. Both leagues will struggle to pare away what is potentially avoidable, while maintaining the largely-violent product fans want.
Baseball is not confronted with the challenge of that balancing act, since no ticket is bought with similar expectation. You have never made that wonderful walk from the car on a sun-splashed afternoon, amid the wafting smells of grilling meat and the barking of peanut vendors, looked at your kids and said “We’re going to see some catcher just get destroyed today! It’s going to be gruesome!”
We only consider it after the fact. The last go-round was 2011, when Giants catcher Buster Posey got his leg shredded, and then just days after that the Astros’ Humberto Quintero was sent to the DL with an ankle injury on a similar play.
Before the Pete Rose/Ray Fosse 1970 All Star Game incident is invoked – as it inevitably is – let’s note some other unfortunate examples. In 2010, The Yankees’ Mark Teixeira gave Angels catcher Bobby Wilson a concussion. In 2006, Eric Byrnes put Brian McCann on the 15-day DL. 2005 saw the always-grindy Darin Erstad level Atlanta’s Johnny Estrada, who suffered from post-concussion syndrome for years after. Two seasons before that, the Padres’ Gary Bennett tore his MCL after being plowed over by Brian Jordan of the Dodgers.
White Sox fans remember not only Torii Hunter going out of his way to torpedo Jamie Burke in 2004, but that awful day in 1996 when the Royals’ Johnny Damon ran into Chad Kreuter, who started bleeding so badly that doctors treating him in the clubhouse had to cut the uniform off him. His shoulder socket was shattered, with pieces of it entering the shoulder blade. Before surgery, he nearly died when stomach lacerations caused internal bleeding. Paramedics saved him with a quick response to his home to pump his stomach and restore his blood pressure.
Baseball doesn’t need this.
Matheny knows it, and he is entirely correct in his assessment. He should be lauded for speaking up, and there should be action taken summarily, without concern for any illogical counter-arguments from the fringes.
“I even thought about it more, and I’m in this position and I watch what that play can do to your team,” he said. “And I realized that this game will go on just fine without collisions at the plate.”
Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of Boers and Bernstein since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.