A brief moment in Tuesday night’s embarrassing and demoralizing 9-0 loss to the Pirates almost made the whole thing significantly worse. The Pirates were already off and running with a lead when infielder Josh Harrison was gunned down at the plate by Carlos Beltran as the outfielder continues to pad his puzzling outfield assists statistic. This particular outfield assist was much more dramatic than most, as Harrison slammed into Yadier Molina violently, dazing the star catcher and leaving him immobilized for longer than anyone ever likes to see. Molina held onto the ball because his blood runs thick with badassery, but for an instant it looked as if baseball’s possible best catcher was headed for a much worse fate than merely surrendering a run.
Molina would eventually get up from the collision and make his way back to the dugout, and it’s worth noting that the Pittsburgh crowd was more than willing to applaud his efforts behind the plate. What ensued was a terrible mess of waiting, a prolonged held breath as we all waited for news on Molina’s health. The men on the field handled this much differently than many of us at home. Jake Westbrook nailed Harrison with a pitch as retribution once the game was already out of hand, Clint Hurdle complained to the umpiring crew when his bench was warned, and Chris Carpenter screamed at just about everyone who intentionally or unintentionally got in the way of his voice. There’s nothing quite like a patented Chris Carpenter shouting match, and Tuesday night’s combatant was the much-less interesting Rod Barajas.
Eventually we were all able to stop holding our breath and instead exhale a collective sigh of relief as it was announced Molina would be just fine. He missed Wednesday night’s similarly awful contest (from our point of view anyway) as a precaution, but there are no serious problems or maladies of the head to report. While Molina was fortunate that the collision wasn’t a big burden to his health, it’s easy to envision a scenario in which he was not so blessed. I doubt many of us would have been surprised should a big, ugly clashing of the bodies like that have resulted in Molina missing a prolonged amount of time or worse.
Maybe the People Who Make Decisions have forgotten about the perils of home plate collisions since the awful one in 2011 that took the fantastic Buster Posey away from baseball for far too long, but it happens to be an issue I think is worth revisiting and getting right. What exactly are the pros of letting players ram into the catcher to try and dislodge a baseball and score a cheap run? Sure, the visceral nature of a collision might appeal to the lowest common denominator. Yes, it’s part of baseball tradition. These are facts I am willing to acknowledge, but they’re not good reasons for allowing this sort of thing to continue.
If the best thing about home plate collisions is the briefest of brief gratification on an animal level, a testosterone-fueled exploration of which player is more of a Man with a capital M, then there is simply no way Major League Baseball should continue to let them happen. Players can see their careers, physical and mental health, and financial livelihoods stripped from them in an instant if something goes wrong in a collision. Teams can see their seasons altered tragically and not for a valid reason. Fans can be robbed of getting to see premier talent on the field at one of the most difficult and demanding positions around the diamond. All of that risk seems to dwarf the “reward,” doesn’t it?
Traditions shouldn’t be adhered to simply because they are traditions. Thinking that way is tremendously dangerous, and it’s gotten the world (not just baseball) into trouble far more often than it has helped. Logistically, why is it even legal to create a football moment in baseball in the first place? You may see hard slides at second base, but you won’t see Matt Holliday basically punching Jose Reyes in the face to send a ball into the outfield and grab an extra base. Home plate is different in that once you’ve touched it, the play is over at that particular base; that doesn’t mean the sport needs to embody a cro-magnon approach whenever a close play happens to occur at the the most distinctly-shaped base in the game.
None of this is meant to demonize Josh Harrison. Harrison was doing what he thought he should; he was simply trying to do whatever it took to get another run home for his team under baseball’s current rule structure. Yadi himself was fine with the play, and as things stand now it’s entirely likely a player might find himself in a team’s doghouse for not trying to murder the catcher on a tight play at the plate. I’m not going to criticize a player for trying to do his job the best he can based on current standards. I am going to criticize MLB as a whole for not doing something to make all this nonsense stop. Baseball is not the same game as football; it’s a much more cerebral experience, a thinking man’s sport with nuance and subtlety everywhere you look. Home plate collisions defy logic and good taste, and they don’t belong in baseball.