Ethics Hero: Major League Baseball

homeplate collisionsAt least one major league sport cares about its players’ health more than it does about highlight films.

Today Major League Baseball announced that it will be banning collisions at home plate, one of the most exciting plays in baseball, and one of the most dangerous. The violent and unpredictable convergence of large human bodies created when runner and ball arrive at home plate nearly simultaneously as a catcher positions his body to receive a throw while blocking access to the plate have decided games and championships, but wrecked careers and, quite possibly, brains. Football’s frightening record of player dementia prompted baseball to check its records, and there was tell-tale evidence that concussions take their toll on ex-catchers as well.

Last season, for the first time, baseball required players suffering concussions to stay on a special disabled list until they were cleared to play after a head examination. The new ban represents more progress.

The rules change will probably take this form, according to ESPN:

• Catchers will not be allowed to block home plate from oncoming runners.

• Runners will not be permitted to target the catchers, and attempt to jar the ball loose from their hands through violent contact.

• The question of whether or not the plate was blocked or the runner targeted the catcher will be reviewable, with an immediate remedy available to the umpires.

• Catchers or runners who violate the new rules will be subject to disciplinary action.

This move can be expected to put further pressure on pro football to take more proactive steps to reduce concussions in its sport, but to be fair, the situation in the two sports are very different. Virtually every play in football involves a collision, while the home plate collisions in baseball, while not rare, are far from a common occurrence. A team may go weeks, involving 20 or more games, without having one; indeed, the rareness of the collisions is what makes them interesting when they do occur.  So while MLB is voluntarily giving up a traditional play that excites fans and is considered a traditional part of the game, it is hardly essential to the game, and losing it will not change that much. It was exciting. It wasn’t worth the injuries it caused, or, now that we understand more about concussions, the risk of crippling post-career syndromes. Some players are complaining, and some fans will miss the moments when baseball becomes a contact sport. Heck, I’ll miss them.

Baseball did the right and responsible thing, however, and most impressive of all, did it quickly.

Now the ball is in the NFL’s court…and with more ex-player lawsuits looming, court is exactly where it is likely to stay.


Sources: ESPN

Graphic: New York Times

18 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: Major League Baseball

  1. High school rules have banned this since at least 1995, when I became a high school umpire. If big leaguers are prohibited from running into basemen intentionally, why should they have been allowed to run down the catcher. By high school rules, malicious contact results in an ejection

  2. We’ve came a long way since Ty Cobb who saw baseball as war. It’s probably for the better. We don’t need any more brain damaged baseball players.

  3. What about that ball? That thing is way too hard, we need to change that to a wiffle ball, much safer. You know what else high schools and collages do? They suck the souls out kids. They denigrate, minimize and distort history and tradition. They are corrupting the youth. Utilizing them as a positive example doesn’t work, its just counter intuitive. Maybe we should just do away with playoffs and World Series too, and to hell with keeping score, you know some of those players might feel bad if they lose or don’t play well. As a matter of fact the players should be chosen by a lottery system, everyone should have an equal chance of becoming a Big Leaguer.

    A little fear of getting crushed at home is probably a good thing but I think this idea has some merit. We will see how it works out.

    • What the actual hell are you talking about? I played sports in high school and we played hard, to win, every time. So did everyone else. Lower-tier sports are just more likely to, you know, follow rules and play the game. The NFL refuses to call a holding call my grandma couldn’t notice, and the NBA doesn’t bother to see travelling unless they come in from halfcourt. Oh wow, those things sure do make the game more interesting. Same with letting baseball players dive into each other. Or do you watch NASCAR for the crashes?

  4. I disagree that MLB is motivated by ethics with their decision. This rule has nothing to do with ethics, and everything to do with protecting the investment of the team owner. MLB contracts, unlike the NFL, are guaranteed. MLB doesn’t have the luxury of not paying injured players that are physically unable to play. Sorry, I don’t agree with you on this one Jack..

  5. I am pleased to see this rule change. There remains plenty of risk of injury in the sport without the collisions at home plate. I do not think that on the margin, the change will diminish either the excitement of the sport to fans, or the challenge and enjoyment of the sport by its players. My thinking toward baseball has always been that tags are all the touching that should occur between players as part of the action. Between plays, I don’t even like patting or being patted on the butt, and do not care to watch the same.

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