Mike Matheny wants to improve catcher safety

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Throughout his playing career spanning 1994-2006, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny was known as one of the toughest players in the game, hearkening back to the older days of baseball. He suffered somewhere in the neighborhood of 25-30 concussions, according to Anthony Castrovince. If anyone would be against changing MLB’s rules to favor a “softer” game, it would be Matheny.

Surprisingly, Matheny does want MLB’s rules regarding home plate collisions changed.

“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 said. “[But] I just don’t see the sense in it.”

The growing sentiment for change comes as a result of an ugly injury Giants catcher Buster Posey suffered in May 2011 when Marlins outfielder Scott Cousins collided with him at home plate. Posey suffered a fractured leg and torn ligaments, ending his season. Others, including Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, have been hit hard since.

Major League Baseball, as much a business as it is a game, suffers when star players like Posey are unable to play. Thus, it would seem to be in its best interest to establish rules that would eliminate superfluous, risky plays like home plate collisions. If change is to be made, however, the “tough guy” culture must be perforated.

Joe Torre, MLB’s executive vice president of baseball operations and also a former catcher, has opposed such change. Indians manager Terry Francona is also a proponent of the status quo, and more are likely to come out as the debate rages on. The players, who often suffer through injuries and use terms such as “man up”, are just as likely to fight against change, especially if it means having to work to change playing habits.

The Indians are unveiling a Frank Robinson statue on Sunday

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The Cleveland Indians will unveil a Frank Robinson statue at Progressive Field on Saturday.

Robinson’s tenure in Cleveland was not long, but it was historic. On April 8, 1975, he became the first African-American manager in Major League history. He was a player-manager. One of the last ones, in fact. He spent two years in that role and then a third year — a partial year anyway — as a manager only. Robinson would go on to manage the Giants, Orioles and the Expos/Nationals, compiling a career record of 1065-1176 in 16 seasons. He is now a top MLB executive.

Robinson was, of course, a Hall of Fame player as well, lodging 21 seasons for the Reds, Orioles, Dodgers, Angels and Indians. He won two MVP awards and hit for the Triple Crown in 1966. Overall he hit 586 home runs – 10th all time – and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982. For an inner-circle Hall of Famer with that kind of resume he is still, strangely enough, underrated. I guess that happens when your contemporaries are Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle.

Anyway, congrats to Frank Robinson for yet another well-deserved honor in a career full of them.

Hey kids: don’t swing a weighted bat in the on deck circle

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Here’s an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal. It’s about some studies of hitters who use weighted bats or doughnuts on their bats in the on deck circle. Turns out that, contrary to conventional wisdom, using a weighted bat for practice hacks does not speed up one’s swing when one uses a naked bat in the batter’s box. In fact, it slows it down.

There are lots of caveats here. The sample size in the studies are small and they all involve college and high school players, not big leaguers. The results, however, are consistent with previous studies and they do make some intuitive sense. This is particularly the case with batting doughnuts, which add weight to a very concentrated portion of the bat, thereby changing the center of gravity and thus the swing mechanics of the hitter.

Whether this is applicable at large or to higher level hitters or not, I still find it kind of neat. I always like it when people scrutinize ingrained habits and ask whether or not that thing we’ve always done is, in fact, worth doing.