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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.

Adam Wainwright is not a fan of the proposed strike zone changes

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 09:  Adam Wainwright #50 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates 6 to 1 in Game Five of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 9, 2013 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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It’s probably not a big shocker that a pitcher is not a big fan of the strike zone being made smaller, but Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals and he tells the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he is not a fan of the proposed changes to the strike zone we wrote about recently, calling the proposal “a horrible, horrible idea.”

Horrible, he acknowledges, because he’s a pitcher with a vested interest so, yes, let’s give Wainwright credit for self-awareness and for disclosing his self-interest. But he thinks it’s a bad idea for another reason too: more hits will lead to more balls in the gap and thus longer games.

I get the intuitive nature of that — the longer it takes to retire a side the longer games go — but it doesn’t necessarily follow that offense and game times are related in the way Wainwright implies. There was a lot more scoring in the 1990s and early 2000s and games were actually shorter then than now. Partially because of other factors (i.e. there were not quite as many pitching changes and because guys played at a faster clip). Partially, I suspect, because there were fewer strikeouts and strikeouts take a longer time than guys grounding out or having some of those balls in the gap caught on the run by a fast outfielder.

As I said last week, I suspect that we’ll see fewer balls in the gap than Wainwright implies and, rather, a lot more walks as pitchers test umpires to see if they’re really taking away that low strike. In the short term that’ll actually make games longer, though not for the reason Wainwright thinks.

 

 

Report: Jonny Gomes has retired

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 28:  Jonny Gomes of the Kansas City Royals looks on before Game Two of the 2015 World Series between the Royals and the New York Mets at Kauffman Stadium on October 28, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)
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SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo hears from a source that former major leaguer Jonny Gomes has decided to retire from baseball. The 35-year-old spent the 2016 season with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in the Japan Pacific League, but he struggled at the plate, batting .169/.280/.246 in 75 plate appearances. Gomes left the Eagles by mutual consent back on May 11.

Gomes won a championship with the Red Sox in 2013 and the Royals last year. He ends a 13-year major league career having hit .242/333/.436 with 162 home runs in 4,009 trips to the plate.

Gomes was known as a clubhouse leader during his playing career, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he ends up coaching or managing in some capacity in the future.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Wednesday evening’s action

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 14:  Marcell Ozuna #13 of the Miami Marlins celebrates a triple in the second inning against the Washington Nationals  at Nationals Park on May 14, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
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Craig previewed this afternoon’s action. We have eight more games left in the evening, though.

The pitching match-ups aren’t at all exciting, sadly, but there are a few streaks to pay attention to tonight. Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley, Jr. is on a 28-game hitting streak, tying him with Wade Boggs for eighth-most in Red Sox history. Teammate Xander Bogaerts is on a 17-game hitting streak as well.

Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna has reached base in 31 consecutive games. And to think that owner Jeffrey Loria would have traded him during the offseason if not for manager Don Mattingly and hitting coach Barry Bonds speaking up in favor of keeping Ozuna.

The match-ups for Wednesday evening…

Arizona Diamondbacks (Rubby De La Rosa) @ Pittsburgh Pirates (Jeff Locke), 7:05 PM EDT

Toronto Blue Jays (Marco Estrada) @ New York Yankees (Ivan Nova), 7:05 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies (Chad Bettis) @ Boston Red Sox (Steven Wright), 7:10 PM EDT

Miami Marlins (Justin Nicolino) @ Tampa Bay Rays (Matt Andriese), 7:10 PM EDT

Milwaukee Brewers (Junior Guerra) @ Atlanta Braves (Mike Foltynewicz), 7:10 PM EDT

Baltimore Orioles (Tyler Wilson) @ Houston Astros (Collin McHugh), 8:10 PM EDT

Cincinnati Reds (Dan Straily) @ Los Angeles Dodgers (Scott Kazmir), 10:10 PM EDT

Oakland Athletics (Zach Neal) @ Seattle Mariners (Hisashi Iwakuma), 10:10 PM EDT

Video: Minor League Manager goes on epic rant

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Frisco RoughRiders manager Joe Mikulik got his money’s worth last night. He was ejected after arguing an automatic double play on an enforcement of the slide rule, and he didn’t go gently into that goodnight.

Rather, he threw things, kicked things, threw things and then subsequently kicked those same things, gave overly-demonstrative slides and safe signs and basically went all Earl Weaver/Lou Piniella on everyone.

Double-A baseball is the best minor league because you tend to see more prospects there than you do at Triple-A. But it’s also the best because, when you’re a manager who is not quite a heartbeat away from getting your shot at the big leagues, you’re a little less uptight about things. Or at least Mikulik was. Or maybe he was more uptight. I don’t know. He just went with it, and going with it has its charms.

 

(h/t Big League Stew)