Much like the NFL has done with helmet to helmet contact and the resulting concussions, baseball is now feeling a sense of urgency to react towards devastating injuries at the plate. While in comparison to football, home plate collisions have not been as gruesome and damaging in the past; that is until Buster Posey’s recent horrific incident. But, maybe this is what it takes for a reactive sport like baseball to act. Much like ESPN’s Jayson Stark noted, it always takes an event like watching Buster Posey lie motionless in the dirt in agony to get the “powers that be” to talk. Now as the defending champion San Francisco Giants try to pick up the pieces, parties have emerged to ask why this situation hasn’t been discussed more readily and proactively in the past. Why does it take a tragedy to make things right?
Firstly, as Stark points out again, the law is almost always a reactive tool. Legislative players like MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and his staff are usually actors who make rules in response to a problem, “usually after the problem has been demonstrated by one fairly horrific or problematic example.” It is simply the nature of legislative action. While people hope that those in power will foresee problematic events and potential situations, it is more likely that action comes to fruition after the consequences have emerged. An options and benefits analysis is almost always used after a “Posey” incident, no matter how trite and unfortunate that may be.
Stark also correctly argues that the law is mostly a tool to respond to individual incidences, not nationwide epidemics. Collisions at the plate have never been a major problem besides a few cases to this point. While it may take a case like Posey’s incident to raise the attention of legislators, this exciting incident has been an important part of maintaining the excitement of the game. While baseball is a more romantic sport that thrives on history and situations, moments such as the few seconds before a runner slams into a catcher, are what help excite viewers who might lose their attention briefly in the game. What would be the cost of eliminating such an event?
Now what baseball faces is truly the hard part: how the new rule should be developed? Since Posey’s case is a unique one that has set off a publicity nightmare for MLB, it might result in a drastic response that negatively affects the game. Do we stop runners from plowing through catchers? What is an acceptable amount of contact? Does this automatically guarantee that the runner will be out since he stands no chance of making a play? How does this affect viewership? The response to this situation will tell the next chapter in this event, but maybe it might be best to be less reactive and weigh the costs v. the benefits a little longer. I’m looking at you Mr. Selig.