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Former Major Leaguer Gabe Kapler wants collisions to remain part of the game

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[Edit: The title originally included the word “concussion” rather than “collision”, which made Kapler look bad for something he didn’t say. It was an unfortunate malapropism on my part. I apologize for the mistake.]

Former Major Leaguer Gabe Kapler penned a thoughtful piece about the home plate collision issue over at FOX Sports. It’s nice to hear the viewpoint of someone who not only played the game but lived the actual experience of a brutal home plate collision. Kapler wants those collisions to stay in baseball, even though they caused him injury and ostensibly some time off the end of his career.

I do happen to disagree very strongly with Kapler, however, on many of his points. Rather than go through line-by-line, I’d like to summarize his main points and then respond to them broadly. His points:

  • It’s reasonable for baseball to “embrace its masculinity”, especially since both fans and players love it, and if baseball can do it safely
  • Suggested rule change: runner may hit the catcher below the shoulders, which would allow baseball to keep the collisions while reducing rate of concussions
  • Ancillary effect of above rule change: runners would be forced to further lower themselves, which would encourage aggressive slides more than collisions
  • Simultaneous news of Ryan Freel’s CTE and baseball’s decision to ban collisions should not, but will be, linked

First off, about “embracing masculinity”: Give or take a few percentage points, half of baseball’s audience is female, so that’s insulting right off the bat. That’s without mentioning men who identify more as female and vice versa, and those that have had surgical alterations. We can make arguments about our favorite things about our favorite game without showing preference to only cis men.

Then there’s the assumption that toughness, willingness to take risks, etc. are good traits to have as a man, and that’s just not true. Men die earlier than women do in part because they are socialized to embrace riskiness. According to the American Psychological Association, men are 25 percent less likely than women to have visited a doctor in the last year. Sound familiar? Baseball players are often pressured into playing through pain and avoiding the trainer as much as possible. For every one woman who is cited for reckless driving, nearly three and a half men are cited for the same offense. Men are more than three times more likely than women to drive without seatbelts. According to a recent survey, nearly ten percent more women wear helmets while riding a motorcycle than men.

To Kapler’s second and third points about amending the rules to still allow collisions but only below the head – concussions can still happen without a direct blow to the head. For instance, a runner can barrel into the catcher’s chest, and as the catcher falls back, his head slams into the dirt. Or he can even stay upright, but all the stuff inside of his skull – like his brain — bounces around like it was in a mosh pit. Furthermore, Kapler’s suggested rule wouldn’t have protected Buster Posey from Scott Cousins when the latter slammed into the former on May 2011. Posey suffered a broken fibula and severely strained ligaments in his left ankle.

As a result of that injury, many expect the Giants to eventually move Posey behind the dish to first base. The Twins have already done just that with Joe Mauer, who has suffered a concussion himself. The Giants signed Posey to a nine-year, $167 million contract extension last March; the Twins signed Mauer to an eight-year, $184 million extension in March 2010. Other teams like the Yankees with Brian McCann (five years, $85 million) and the Cardinals with Yadier Molina (five years, $75 million) also look at MLB’s decision to ban collisions with a vested interest as well.

The people in front offices don’t care so much about baseball’s culture so much as they care about their investments. The Twins having to move Mauer from catcher to first base significantly hurts their investment in myriad ways – elite-hitting catchers are rare, but elite-hitting first basemen are not; healthy catchers are rare, but healthy first basemen are common; catcher is a very difficult position to play well, but first base is a relatively easy position to play.

How about the fans? Fans may love collisions, but they love seeing their favorite teams’ star players more, and they love seeing their favorite teams win, too. I witnessed that firsthand as a Phillies fan. Tickets became extremely expensive from 2009-11, when the Phillies were on their stampede through the NL East. But the star players got old and went on the disabled list frequently, and the team stopped winning in 2012. Attendance waned and tickets became cheap and easy to find because Ty Wigginton, not Ryan Howard, was at first base. To bring it back to the Giants, they are a less profitable business when Guillermo Quiroz, not Posey, is behind the plate catching Matt Cain. This isn’t just a culture issue — it’s a business issue, too. (This is without making an aside on the $765 million settlement the NFL made with over 18,000 retired players due to concussion-related brain injuries, which Major League Baseball certainly watched with a close eye.)

But about that culture… people within a culture, particularly those that have benefited from it, are not very likely to actively help change it. The best teams in a team sport have unit cohesion. If you are going rogue, criticizing your sport’s culture (and, consequently, your team’s culture), then you are making harder for your team to be one unit with one common goal. Any other individuals who share the rogue’s viewpoint are less likely to show support lest they be bumped out of the larger group as a result. Cultures are hard to change, even when it’s obvious. I need not go through the embarrassing pages of a U.S. history textbook to illustrate this point. Attempting to change a culture at the expensive of self is heroic; attempting to preserve the status quo is often selfish. I don’t mean to say that in an insulting way to Kapler, as it is simply human nature. We wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t been so good at preserving the group and batting away dissidents.

Finally, to Kapler’s last point about Ryan Freel: yes, it is true that Freel’s chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) had to do with his crashing into inanimate objects like outfield fences, rather than bumping into catchers. Thus, Kapler argues, we shouldn’t be linking Freel’s CTE to the latest news about baseball banning home plate collisions. However, home plate collisions will always carry that concussion risk, no matter what type of headgear you wear, no matter what manner of “hitbox” boundaries you create, no matter how much you give lip service to the culture. The only thing that will absolutely make an impact on lowering the rate of concussions in baseball is banning home plate collisions.

Jeff Passan recently wrote about the issue at Yahoo! Sports. He spoke with Chris Nowinski, who is studying CTE for Boston University. Nowinski has dealt with officials from many different sports, but praised the interest and action shown by those in baseball. Passan wrote:

Not only does Nowinski laud the league’s seven-day disabled list for concussions – borne of an injury-analysis initiative run by some of the brightest minds in the sport’s labor-relations department – he said MLB officials at the meeting with Freel’s family peppered him with questions not of the defensive nature he’s seen from other sports but with a simple request: Help us improve.

To baseball players and fans of the sport, banning home plate collisions may leave a bad taste in their mouths, but ultimately, this is medicine that is good for all of us.

Andrew Miller for Lucas Giolito: WHO SAYS NO?!!

BALTIMORE, MD - JUNE 28:  Lucas Giolito #44 of the Washington Nationals pitches in the first inning during a baseball game against the New York Mets at Nationals Park on June 28, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
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The rumor mongers are churning up some good stuff about the Yankees and the Nationals maybe talking about an Andrew Miller for Lucas Giolito deal. It started with Jon Morosi saying that the Nationals were willing to trade Giolito, one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball, to the Yankees for Miller straight up.

Taking two steps back, the idea of a Miller-for-Giolito deal seems like it’d be something the Yankees would jump at in a heartbeat. Giolito would, in the normal course, be worth more than a relief pitcher. Even a good one under team control like Miller is. So if the Nats were willing to do this, the Yankees would be fools not to accept, right?

Well, no. Jon Heyman and Joel Sherman are saying that the Yankees are looking for a massive return for Miller, more than what Cubs gave them for Aroldis Chapman. That deal netted New York prospect Gleyber Torres and three other players who have future value. Gioloto is worth more straight up than Torres, but the Yankees want another big package, not just one guy. Assuming those reports are true, are the Yankees being greedy?

Maybe not! Maybe it’s not about the Yankees’ eyes being wide. Maybe it’s about the nature of prospects and how all of our eyes get a bit wide over them, especially when national rankings are released each spring. We see Giolito or someone like him named the top prospect — or maybe a top-3 prospect — and immediately believe they are untouchable or, at the very least, close to invaluable.

But here, if the rumors are to be believed, the Nats are offering him for a relief pitcher. And the Yankees are saying “nah, we need more.” Maybe they both see something the prospect raters and coveters don’t. Maybe, in the abstract, they’re just as high on him as the raters and coveters are but maybe they don’t live in the abstract. Maybe they have the added benefit of (a) experience with the fortunes of young pitching prospects; and (b) a downside risk in loving them too much that the raters and coveters don’t have. No prospect rater risks being fired if the guy they rank #1 in any given year blows his shoulder out. Team employees have been.

I have no idea if there are legs to these rumors. I know that I like Giolito as a prospect, for whatever that’s worth, and the Yankees definitely have a need for young, projectable and controllable pitching talent. Likewise, given that they’re in a transitional period right now and given that they Have Dellin Betances, they could do without Andrew Miller if they needed to. He’s someone they could deal in order to get a guy in Gioloto who would instantly become their top prospect.

But it’s the deadline and people get a bit nuts. Teams ask for the stars, yes, but those of us on the outside tend to forget that a huge number of prospects, especially pitching prospects, never pan out. For all of the hype a deadline occasions and for as much as we see a beautiful future for each and every young hurler that comes down the pike, there are no clear answers about who is or who isn’t being unreasonable here. That is, if any of this stuff is true.

Enjoy the trade deadline, everyone. Just remember that no one knows anything and everyone, on some level, is making a bet.

Chicago woman pledges money to a domestic violence charity for each Aroldis Chapman save

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 28:  Aroldis Chapman #54 of the Chicago Cubs pitches in the 9th inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on July 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the White Sox 3-1.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Though never charged with a crime, Aroldis Chapman was involved in a domestic violence incident that involved the intimidation of his girlfriend. He allegedly smashed a window of a car in his garage and then fired a gun, sending his girlfriend cowering into the bushes. He admitted to that much anyway, saying he used bad judgment, particularly with the gun, and apologized as he accepted his suspension from Major League Baseball.

But though he apologized, Chapman has declined to make any efforts to combat or to raise awareness of domestic violence. He is not required to do so, of course, but his peculiar dismissal of the topic in the press conference introducing him as a Chicago Cub the other day continues to make many uneasy with rooting for a team which employs him, even if he makes them better and even if his talent is undeniable.

One such person is Cubs fan Caitlin Swieca. She decided to do something about it, however, and has found a way to at least begin to make Chapman’s presence on her favorite team at least a little less uncomfortable:

Swieca selected the Domestic Violence Legal Council of Chicago, which provides free legal services to victims of domestic violence. Chapman got his first save last night and her first pledge was made. Many others have taken her example as her pledge has been publicized. If you’re interested in getting involved, she has provided some additional domestic violence charities in the Chicago area:

If a young woman who is, presumably, not making $11.325 million this year can make such an effort, I wonder if Aroldis Chapman might see clear to do so too.