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Winter Meetings 2013: Former catchers comment on collision rule changes

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL — In case you missed it, we had big rule change news from the Winter Meetings on Wednesday when New York Mets General Manager and MLB Rules Committee chairman Sandy Alderson declared that the committee had voted to “eliminate collisions at home plate by governing both catchers and runners in that situation.” Our post on the rule change provides more details about the reasoning behind the change and information regarding potential implementation.

Bruce Bochy of the San Francisco Giants and Mike Matheny of the St. Louis Cardinals led the efforts to initiate change, but several of the former catchers who now manage in the majors provided their thoughts on proposed changes to the collision rules. Note: some of the quotes below were secured prior to the rules committee meeting with the clubs on Wednesday morning and others after the meeting.

Bruce Bochy, San Francisco Giants (caught in majors from 1978-87)

What Mike [Matheny] and I hope is that we do change the rule at home plate and knock out these collisions. The risks involved, I think it's not worth it. I don't think the catchers are protected as much as they should. The size of these runners coming in as fast as they are, I just want to try to eliminate any injuries, severe injuries. And Mike feels the same way. And whether it's a concussion or broken ankle, whatever. Obviously the blocking of the plate and runners hitting the catcher…I think most of us feel that isn't a big part of the game anymore. There's been adjustments everywhere, and I think it's time in baseball that we do change the rule and protect these catchers.

This is not about Buster. But I go back to Gary Bennett got hit at home plate in LA, I'll never forget looking over at him thinking this is a time to make a change here. It wasn't a cheap shot. Brian Jordan, great player, clean player, and he was throwing to home plate and here's a football player that I thought he paralyzed him at first because he really got smoked there at the plate. And I said right then, we need to change this play at the plate because the catchers aren't protected for this type of hit.  It's been proven, scientific study done on ESPN, and they don't have the football equipment to handle this. And even in football they're protecting their players now. So that's kind of when I had mentioned it's time to change the rule there at home plate.

Mike Matheny, St. Louis Cardinals (caught in majors from 1994-2006)

I'm proud of the League for taking a step forward. I don't know how it's all going to play out.  But people who know me, know my stance on this. I just believe it's something that we can't turn a blind eye to what's going on in these other sports. Let's learn from what's going on there and see if we can make our sport better. The way we do that is try to lessen the risk to all of our players. We don't see baseball necessarily as a contact sport. But with how often we play, when those contacts do happen there is usually some pretty negative ramifications that come when you jump right back in the saddle. It's just something that we need to continue to be educated on, and some people's experiences will help move us in that direction.

Joe Girardi, New York Yankees (caught in majors from 1989-2003)

I always thought it was part of the game. I know that they're trying to protect catchers. And concussions are an issue in our country not only in football but in other sports. I know it's a concern and you don't want to see players get hurt. I think part of it is just having the sense not to run over a catcher if you can slide. But sometimes the emotions of players get the best of them. I lost time as a catcher being run over a couple different times, but I thought it was part of my job and I enjoyed the contact. Now I'm not so sure that everyone enjoys contact.  But I love football, so I liked it. I could go either way [on elimination], but I still believe it's part of the game.

Bob Melvin, Oakland A’s (caught in majors from 1985-94)

A lot of it is instinctive as far as what you're doing behind the plate as far as blocking the plate. I just don't know how you enforce it. But obviously if it's gotten to this point where they're close to making a decision on it, then they have some ideas. I just haven't heard it yet.

Mike Scioscia, Los Angeles Angels (caught in majors from 1980-92)

Well, I think everyone is in agreement that the mindless collisions at home plate where a catcher is being targeted by a runner, that needs to be addressed. And I know that will be addressed. I think that it's easy to say a runner has to slide. But on the other side of the coin, it's going to be difficult to contain a runner telling him what he has to do and let the catcher have carte blanche to be able to block the plate aggressively. And there will have to be some parameters around the catcher. It's a little bit of a dicey issue to work your way through, but I'm comfortable in the feeling that it will be addressed and addressed to a satisfactory level, where a runner can still be aggressive going to the plate with a hard slide and the catcher understands the need to have the ball in his possession and what he can do to tag a guy at the plate.

When I was growing up as a kid in Philadelphia, it was a badge of honor, you were expected to hang in at the plate, and the runner was expected to do everything he could to tag the plate. We're going back 40 years ago, but the mindset has changed a bit. I think what we're talking about now is maybe the catcher that is not at all in a position where he's obstructing or blocking the path from the plate from the runner, and the runner takes the liberty to hit him, just from instincts of saying, I think I'm going to be out, I'm going to go after him hard, when it wasn't necessary to do, I think that that mindset of a runner coming down third baseline can be adjusted and they can be trained to understand the need, their first instinct is to go with a hard slide and go to the plate. And I think that's doable.

Mike Redmond, Miami Marlins (caught in majors from 1998-2010)

Well, that's a tough one because I think as a player, I don't know that I minded the collisions.  As a manager, obviously, with the concussions and the injuries, I want to protect my guys. I don't want them to get hurt because I need them. I'm not sure exactly the answer. But I know that we're working on that and working on protecting guys. I know that there is a solution out there.  What it is, I'm not sure yet. But I don't want to see guys get hurt and I know we're going to work on trying to protect these guys.

Brad Ausmus, Detroit Tigers (caught in majors from 1993-2010)

You know, I do think it should change. With all the new information on concussions, it's probably the prudent thing to do. However, I am a little bit old school in the sense that I don't want to turn home plate into just another tag play. This is a run. This is the difference between possibly making the playoffs and not making the playoffs. It should matter a little bit more.

In my mind I'd love to see something that if there's a collision, any hit above the shoulders, maybe the runner is out. I don't know how it's going to pan out. I know that would be very difficult to umpire, intent on something like that. But I do think something is going to happen.  I'm a little bit more old school in the sense that this is home plate, we've got to protect it.

I think in large part that has to do with some of the dollars that are spent, that and of course the health of the people — the collisions at home plate. Certainly the Buster Posey collision with Cousins ‑‑ I think that was kind of a tipping point, it seemed. The discussion really picked up after that. But again for me, those things are going to happen. The occasional knee injuries, those things are going to happen. In my mind let's talk about protecting the head, keep the concussions to a minimum or to zero, if possible.

Amanda Rykoff will be covering the Winter Meetings this week for The Outside Corner. Follow @amandarykoff for Twitter updates.

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