Programming note: Get up to date on all the latest offseason Giants news on the Hot Stove Show, TONIGHT at 6:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area
ORLANDO – Some major league managers and GMs still need convincing that a rule change is warranted to cut down on dangerous, intentional collisions at home plate.
Mike Matheny hopes his story can change some minds and hearts.
“I don’t have that much tenure in that room,” said the Cardinals’ manager and former Giants catcher. “But what I do have is my experience. And I can share my first-person experience of what kind of life-altering impact these injuries can have.”
Matheny and Giants manager Bruce Bochy will lobby for a rule change to protect defenseless catchers when managers and GMs meet as a group with Major League Baseball vice president Joe Torre on Wednesday at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort.
Now that Torre is coming around on the subject, Bochy said he expects that a rule change could be instituted before opening day. He’s sure to face opposition, though. Of eight managers surveyed on the subject, three said they see no reason for a change, three were in favor and two wanted more information on what shape would that rule would take, how it would it be enforced and what the penalties would be.
But Bochy is optimistic that a nod from Torre would be as effective as a papal bull. And another Hall of Fame manager, Tony La Russa, planned to speak in favor of a rule change as well.
“You know what? I do think it will happen” prior to next season, Bochy said. “In talking to Joe, he’s open-minded on this. Hopefully it is a change before the season starts.”
Bochy said he envisions the rule to be based on the NCAA prohibition against “contact above the waist … initiated by the baserunner.” The college rule also mandates that runners slide in a direct line to the bag unless avoiding a tag. Runners can be called out if an umpire determines the contact to be intentional, and malicious acts can warrant an ejection.
Bochy also wants some expansion of the rule to protect runners against catchers who plant themselves in front of the plate, cutting off any path to score.
But he hesitated to go into too many specifics or map out every possible scenario, saying he hopes the rule can take shape after thoughtful discussion on Wednesday.
And if other GMs and managers claim that the Giants are simply reacting to the targeted hit that the Marlins’ Scott Cousins put on Buster Posey in 2011, Bochy will be quick to chime in. A former big league catcher, Bochy made up his mind that something needed to be done a decade ago, when Gary Bennett got steamrolled by the Dodgers’ Brian Jordan – a former NFL All-Pro safety -- in a 2002 play at Dodger Stadium.
“I remember standing over him and saying, `We need to make a change,’” Bochy said. “I thought he was paralyzed.”
Not all field bosses agree that a change is needed. Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg is skeptical, saying he wanted more information but he generally believes that regulating home-plate collisions would be an unwanted change to the game’s traditions.
“It’s the object of the game to score runs,” Sandberg said. “It’s one of the most exciting plays in baseball: The collision at the plate, and whether the runner is safe or out.”
It’s that very romanticism that Matheny hopes to shatter when he speaks on Wednesday. His career ended in 2006 with the Giants when he took a series of foul tips to the mask that resulted in debilitating concussion symptoms that affected him for several years. Matheny also absorbed his share of collisions, and doctors now understand that multiple instances of brain trauma lead to symptoms that are cumulative and amplified.
“As I was going through it, I downplayed it,” Matheny said. “I didn’t want to seem like a victim. But I see now that was more about ego and pride.
“I’m frustrated I didn’t take a stronger stance when I had the platform, when it was all still fresh. I didn’t want to be the poster boy. Moving forward, though, man … what a mistake. I could have used that time to bring this issue into the light.
“With what we’ve seen in the NHL and NFL, you can’t deny that people’s lives are being altered by this. My life was altered.
“Maybe now I can help people realize that this thing is real and it’s extremely scary.”
Said Bochy: “A lot of us feel this way: there is no need for this to be a part of the game anymore.”