There may not have been a more exciting play in MLB than when a player rounded third base and barreled for home with a full head of steam and then plowed over a catcher like an out of control freight train. The main objective was to beat the throw to the plate, and if the throw beat them, then the catcher had better be prepared for a violent collision. It was the baseball equivalence of two wild rams facing off in the wild, where one or the other came out of the battle victorious. It was down and dirty, mano y mano, hard-nosed baseball in its most purist form. Unfortunately, the sterilization of MLB that focuses more on protecting overpaid athletes has stripped fans from the excitement that was once baseball.
While home plate collisions have not been completely banned by MLB yet, they have implemented an experimental rule that is attempting to eliminate “egregious” collisions at home plate. Essentially, it becomes a judgment call by the umpire, and much like an NFL cornerback or safety has seen in the last couple of years, it prevents players from going 100 percent out of fear of being penalized or being called out. It is understandable that leagues are attempting to protect players, but when athletes sign contracts to play professional sports, there is a clear understanding of the dangers which accompany these games. Most likely, it is the owners who are more concerned with protecting their highly-paid stars from becoming injured, but the hand-holding and coddling of players is changing the way the game is played, and unfortunately, the people getting short-changed are the fans.
Pete Rose, known as “Charlie Hustle,” was no stranger to home-plate collisions, and throughout the history of baseball, there may not be anyone to ever play the game with as much passion as Rose. It did not matter if it was the first game of the season, the last game of the season, or a scrimmage game, as he demonstrated in the 1970 All-Star Game when he barreled over American League catcher, Ray Fosse in the bottom of the twelfth inning. The play has gone down in baseball lore as one of the most exciting plays of all-time. There was nothing malicious about the play, but Rose played the game at one speed, and if that meant taking out a catcher, then that is the way it had to be. It was these types of plays which make the ongoing sterilization of baseball much harder to accept. Fans go to the ball field to see players perform at their highest level, with their foot on the pedal, flooring it in fifth gear. They do not pay to see players downshift, pull their foot off the gas just as things are about to get interesting.
It is a sad state for MLB and fans worldwide when high salaries trump true competiveness and the pure adrenaline which comes from playing and watching the game. Nobody should ever hope for a player or athlete to get injured, but American’s have a bit of blood lust when watching professional sports, and if that becomes completely eliminated from the game, it becomes no different than sitting back and watching a computer video game. People look for the knockout, the racecar to flip as it rounds the final turn, or a bone-crushing hit on a wide receiver as they cross the middle of the field. It is the unexpected moment that keeps people on the edge of their seat, and it is what keeps them coming back for more. It is what separates the professionals from the spectators, and if MLB continues to sterilize what was once America’s favorite pastime, fans may flock to more exciting games like curling, which takes place during the winter Olympics.
Commentary by Johnny Caito