Home plate collisions of the past few years and the new rule trying to reduce them have brought up a lot of talk about how, in trying to cut down on the collisions, Major League Baseball was taking away an essential part of the game, one which is ingrained in the minds and habits of catchers and baserunners alike.
But if that’s the case, it’s a pretty new phenomenon. As Jacob Pomrenke at The National Pastime Museum notes, home plate collisions of the Pete Rose-Ray Fosse variety, which are now thought of as a fundamental part of the game, are anything but:
For the first half of the twentieth century, most base runners—even those who skillfully practiced the art of intimidation like Ty Cobb—almost always slid feet-first into home plate. That led to some spikings, like the one described above, but few major injuries like the ones suffered by Fosse and Posey. Though there was often some contact between catcher and base runner, violent collisions at the plate were infrequent.
The rise in collisions came as a result of (a) baseball cracking down on runners going in spikes-high; and (b) a lower offensive era emerging in the 50s and 60s that were occasioned by both an increasing number of large, defense-first catchers who were good at blocking the plate and an offensive context that made one run matter a hell of a lot more than it did in previous decades.
Just a really interesting article about how the game changes organically and how it changes, often in unexpected ways, as the result of alterations to the rules.
All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.
The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.
It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.
It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.
Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉