Spring training | The war at home: Collisions at plate part of game for catchers

Collisions at plate part of game for catchers

jlembo@bradenton.comMarch 24, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Head to a ballfield during the month of March, and you'll find baseball players practicing something.

You'll find pitchers fielding their positions in a drill known as PFP, or pitcher's fielding practice.

You'll find hitters working on driving the ball the other way.

Or maybe you'll find middle infielders honing their double-play pivots.

What you won't find, however, is a runner sprinting down the third-base line and barreling into a catcher.

So how do teams prepare for home-plate collisions?

"We don't," Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.

Well, that's not entirely true.

"What we will do is fungo balls to (catchers) or get the machine cranked up so they can get short-hopped throws," Hurdle said, "and plays at the plate. We'll simulate it with footsteps and make noise and things like that. But it's one of the few plays that's very difficult to re-create."

Collisions at home plate and whether or not they have a place in the game has become one of baseball's hottest topics. Earlier this spring, St. Louis Cardinals manager and former catcher Mike Matheny told MLB.com collisions should be banned and catchers should not be permitted to block the plate.

"I understand old school, and I consider myself an old school player, as far as the way I go out and the way I was taught the game.," Matheny told the website earlier this month. "I just don't see the sense in it."

Violent meetings at home have led to some ugly injuries in the past, including the broken ankle Buster Posey suffered after he was hit by the then-Florida Marlins player Scott Cousins in 2011.

Posey missed the remainder of the season.

And the Pirates' Josh Harrison and Cardinals catcher Yadir Molina were involved in a big crash last summer. But Molina suffered no serious injuries and told MLB.com the play was clean.

"Part of the game," Molina told Cardinals.com. "(Harrison) did what he had to do."

Pirates catcher Russell Martin agreed.

"There's contact in football, too. Are they going to stop football? There's contact in hockey. Are they going to stop hockey?" he asked Monday after the Pirates' 4-3 win over the Boston Red Sox at McKechnie Field. "I'm actually tired of hearing about (banning collisions). It's annoying me.

"People are talking about it. It's been in the game 100 and something years. It's a part of baseball."

Martin added that violent meetings between base runners and catchers don't happen every day. And if done right, they may not even have to happen at all.

"You leave some plate for the runner to see, and hopefully he decides to slide," said Martin, a three-time All-Star and a Gold Glove winner in 2007, "and at the last second, you take away the plate. There's different ways to do it. ... I usually just kind of sweep my leg out and make the guy kind of have to go over or around me, if he's already committed to sliding."

Martin's backup in Pittsburgh, Michael McKenry, see it the same way.

"If we block the plate, they should hit us. If we give them room, they should slide," McKenry said. "Where you get hurt is when they don't slide when they have the plate and you don't necessarily have the ball. Say you're looking for the ball from right field ... and they can slide around you. If they hit you there, that's when you're vulnerable.

"I've had that happen. Bad things can happen."

While catchers are taught how to avoid collisions, sometimes contact is inevitable. Consequently, catchers also are tutored in the proper way to absorb contact.

McKenry says he leans into contact and keeps his joints loose, preventing him from getting a cleat caught on a sliding baserunner.

"We're taught to shuffle to the ball," he said, "and come back with our momentum."

Of course, every play is different. Martin echoed McKenry's sentiment that a ball hit to right field is a little more dangerous because the catcher has to wait for the throw while momentarily turning his back on the runner motoring around third.

Once the throw is made, a catcher must gauge the sort of hop, if any, he is going to get. And then it's time to turn full attention to the runner.

"The timing of the play is instinctual as far as how you're going to react to contact," Martin said. "I just try to apply the tag and get out of the way, try and spin off of it. The key is to really just stay away from contact as a catcher because you're in a vulnerable position."

That being said, Martin doesn't want collisions to go away. They are part of the game and part of the deal for anyone who puts on the chest protector, mask and shin guards.

"That's the game," McKenry said. "I do think it's a bad thing if a guy goes outside the baseline, and if they're isn't a play, you get crushed. But if there's a play, I think it's all hands on deck."

Bradenton Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service