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Masoud: MLB needs to expand replay, protect catchers (Mar. 1)

Chris Masoud | Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Baseball is late to the party. A lot. In fact, baseball has been late to the party so many times I’m surprised baseball still gets invited.

The powers pulling the strings behind the scenes of Major League Baseball discovered email about a week ago and think change is a running fad. Nevertheless, the sport has taken recent steps to at least welcome the idea.

The league reached an agreement with the Player’s Association last November to remove tobacco from the public’s eye, preventing players and coaches from carrying tobacco packages in their uniforms during games. I think more positive changes will come.

Instant replay might be the most obvious example of clinging to old-world traditions. Calling balls and strikes on 98 mph fastballs and 12-6 curveballs is hard enough to do at home, let alone sitting in a crouch and wearing a mask for three-plus hours. Yet the subjectivity involved in deciphering what constitutes a strike has become so ingrained in the game, it shouldn’t be removed. Hitters like umpires with high strike zones; pitchers like umpires with low zones; yet both have to deal with umpires that have moving zones.

But determining safe or out, fair or foul and homerun or not should not be left to the naked eye. The league has already implemented replay to questionable homeruns — it needs to expand replay’s scope to everything else. Adding a fifth and designated replay umpire in the scorer’s booth is hardly an original idea, yet it is one that would eliminate beyond the shadow of a doubt a base runner’s right to be on the bags, not to mention a number of manager tantrums and ejections.

But baseball’s most incriminating tradition is the one most likely never to change: collisions at the plate. I’ve been at AT&T Park at its loudest, like when Barry Bonds slugged his 700th homerun into my section of the bleachers. But nothing compares to the silence of May 25, 2011, when I saw Buster Posey break his leg and tear three ankle ligaments after Scott Cousins of the Marlins plowed into the Giants’ catcher. It was as if someone took a vacuum to the life of that stadium, creating the silence that only comes when you know you’ve lost your franchise player for the season and maybe more.

Two months later, Diamondback fans lost Stephen Drew to a season-ending ankle injury sustained in a home-plate collision. Forty-one years earlier in 1970, Indians fans lost a rising star in catcher Ray Fosse when Pete Rose famously rearranged his left shoulder in the 12th inning of the All-Star Game, colliding with Fosse before scoring the game-winning run for the National League. Fosse had 16 home runs at the All-Star break. In the nine years following the collision, Fosse never hit more than 12 in a full season.

I’m tired of hearing the “It’s part of the game” argument. Head-to-hits in the NFL were part of the game. Checking to the head in the NHL was part of the game. How can a sport that employs rigorous drug tests in order to protect “the integrity of the game” undermine the protection of its players by allowing almost certain injury-inducing collisions? It’s inconsistent.

From 1876 to 1926, 38 different pitchers earned two complete victories on the same day. That means they pitched at least 18 innings over the course of a double header. But by the end of the 20th century, pitchers were throwing on four days of rest instead of three in light of career-ending throwing injuries from overuse. Owners and coaches demanded the protection of their pitching investments, and baseball acquiesced.

By encouraging players to slide into the plate and mandating catchers to use swipe tags, owners and coaches are again demanding the protection of their players. For a league that loathes making a change from precedent, baseball, there’s your precedent.


Contact Chris Masoud at [email protected]

The views expressed in this Sports Authority column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.