©2012 Ross Williams
In 2006, right around the time it happened, I essayed on an incident in a baseball game involving the team I follow – the Chicago Cubs – in which the Cubs’ catcher was clobbered at home plate by a baserunner who failed to make use of the available basepath to avoid collision. The argument I made at the time went roughly as follows:
1] the Cubs’ catcher was in a position to take a throw from the outfield and make a play on the baserunner
2] the rules of baseball prohibit baserunners from interfering with fielders in position to make plays – and taking throws is among the plays fielders can make
3] the baserunner is given a basepath of 3’ on either side of a direct line between his position and the base he is attempting to reach in order to avoid contact with a fielder attempting to make a play
4] a baserunner not using the available basepath when he can do so shall be called out for interference, just as he would be at first base, or second base, or third base if he’d have run over the fielder taking a throw
Others with whom I had discussed this rather notorious incident prior to my essaying upon it pointed out their feeble criticisms with my argument:
A] the rules of baseball prohibit catchers from blocking home plate.
...the rules of baseball prohibit any fielder from blocking any other base as well. So what? “Blocking” a base is defined to be impeding a baserunner’s ability to get to a base to which he is entitled without having possession of the baseball or being in a position to take a throw. The Cubs’ catcher in this incident was awaiting the throw from the outfield, ergo he was not “blocking” home plate.
B] yabbut, the rules of baseball specifically single out catchers when prohibiting blocking the base.
...yet the rules of baseball still define “blocking” a base as not having possession of the baseball, nor being in a position to catch a thrown baseball, so it still doesn’t apply. In any event, the Cubs’ catcher was in possession of the baseball at the moment of [unnecessary] impact, because the baseball was dislodged during the collision. The Cubs’ catcher was not blocking home plate period get it through your heads.
C] the rules of baseball allow catchers to be run over by baserunners trying to score.
...no, they don’t. The rules of baseball do not allow any fielder making, or attempting to make, a play to be run over by a baserunner when there is a way to avoid a collision. It has merely become a practice of baseball – a practice unsupported by the rules – which tolerates baserunners clobbering catchers [and only catchers], devising a whole series of unwritten “clean hit” rules to gauge it by, none of which are supported by the rulebook and all of them clearly disingenuous rationalization. If the rules don’t support it happening at second base on a stolen base attempt, I concluded in my earlier essay, then the rules should not support it happening at home plate when a runner tries to score from third on a sacrifice fly. The only reason it’s tolerated is because a stocky catcher wears armored equipment that is not worn by the thin, third world shortstop making a tag on a stolen base attempt.
The asshole A J Pierzynski clobbering Michael Barrett in the incident above is widely [though not universally] seen as being one of these arbitrary “clean plays”, however Pete Rose clobbering Ray Fosse is widely [though not universally] viewed as not. Yet, of the two, the one where the catcher was not in physical possession of the ball at the time he was steamrolled was Ray Fosse, so any further attempts to excuse what makes one a “clean hit” and the other not based upon “blocking the plate” is ... and I may have used this phrase before ... disingenuous rationalization. A more popular term for it might be bullshit.
The reason this comes up six years later is that the baseball team local to where I live, the St Louis Cardinals, recently had their catcher clobbered by a baserunner trying to score. In this instance, the catcher was the demi-god Yadier Molina, and not the hotheaded Barrett who liked to swing his fists to punctuate his points. Unlike Barrett, Molina held onto the ball but [reportedly, and fleetingly, and also unlike Barrett] not his consciousness. And while many baseball people, including the drunken Cardinals’ radio man, Mike Shannon, did their valiant best to portray this as another of these ill-defined “clean hits”, you could tell from the endless radio and television replays of the incident that no one’s heart was truly in it. Molina was to miss much of the rest of the season for having ouchies, whereas Barrett was suspended ten games for denting the asshole Pierzynski’s jaw with his fist.
After all, this wasn’t just any catcher taking a shoulder to the chin, this was one of the vaunted Molina boys; and it didn’t happen to the catcher of a toss-away team everyone loves to sneer at like the Cubs, it happened to the Yankees of the National League, the Cardinals. You simply can’t get away with enforcing unwritten rules against the Cardinals. It’s just not done! The only saving grace in all this is that their prior manager, Tony Larussa, had retired the year before, otherwise the Cardinals would have gone on a season-long revenge against every opponent on their schedule ... while denying they were doing so. And they still may.
Right on cue, the sports media, from local StL newspapers to grandpappy ESPN – which in 2006 lambasted Michael Barrett for starting a brawl by cold-cocking the asshole Pierzynski for sliding elbows first into Barrett’s face– has come out, nearly in unison, calling for an end to the unwritten rule that allows catchers to be clobbered, deliberately run into and run over, by baserunners trying to score. Because, sure, the catcher is wearing all that equipment, but it’s not a guarantee of protection – just ask any football player, Ray Fosse or Yadier Molina. Besides, it’s not allowed at second base on an attempted steal; why should home plate be any different?
…words that couldn’t have sounded better if they’d come off my own keyboard. Which they did. In 2006.
I don’t stop being wrong because an ESPN columnist finally reads the rulebook and echoes my sentiments, so I guess I was right all along … as I usually am. You’d think at some point others would simply stop their pointless quibbling.