Baseball is the latest sport to take the sting out of its contact as the league announced that it would ban collisions at the home plate yesterday.
This is the newest preventative measure to unnecessary injury, the powers that be in the MLB have decided to outlaw deliberate blocking collisions at the home plate.
I must admit I’ve spent a lot of today listening to expert opinion on the radio as to what this means to baseball.
On the one hand baseball isn’t like hockey or football in that hits are part of the game. You don’t go to a game expecting to see some crunching smashes and big hits.
There is certainly a worry of contact sport being a bit overly violent in places. The links that the aforementioned sports have to concussions and seriously debilitating physical and mental health post-career.
The worry that this even effects people during their career too along with further evidence in the past ten years that, head injuries specifically, multiple hits are causing dementia, depression and suicide.
However, the other side of this is that baseball doesn’t need to bubble wrap its athletes. This kind of contact is a rare part of the game and if you start banning things, where will it stop?
Will the next thing be to stop fielders hitting the wall? Will there be harsher penalties for the batter being hit with the ball?
Of course those two examples are silly, and that is the point.
When it comes to the NFL a lot has already been done in what you can say is quite a serious issue. The impact that injuries, especially head injuries, has on later life has been a major area of concern.
This has led to better protection of the QB and banning of helmet to helmet contact, amongst other things. The NHL hasn’t been as proactive but the issues are still the same.
The problem with baseball is that contact is rare in these regards that you can’t really legislate for it. It is a part of the game of course but there is an overreaction possibility here, and it will be interesting to see how well it will be enforced by umpires.
If we are completely honest, the occasional collision is not the biggest health issue or worry that is troubling baseball.
However the speed of the game, something that is already a relaxed affair anyway, might be affected. The rule states that the runner “cannot deviate from his direct pathway” so they can hit the catcher.
The way that this will be enforced is by looking at video evidence to see if contact has occurred, if there has been a deviation by the runner.
This will be used during this season. But it does have the potential to not only slow the game but have a very opinionated outcome. Replays will show quite clearly if someone has deviated from their direct run, but how much of a deviation is needed?
How much will the interpretation differ between umpires? Furthermore, how much will the severity of an injury affect the decision of the umpire?
We see this all the time in other sports that the reaction of player is more important than the actual challenge in shaping a decision. What the officials will need to realize is that there will be legitimate contact and it will be direct and there will be injuries.
After all, it’s part of the game. We can only hope that this doesn’t cause more officiating problems than the injury prevention it solves.