ORLANDO – Giants manager Bruce Bochy won his crusade. And in the end, he didn’t have to answer to a single dissenter.
A month after major league GMs voiced unanimous approval of a new rule to regulate collisions at home plate, the field managers followed suit in a committee meeting on Wednesday.
Mets GM Sandy Alderson announced MLB’s intent to draft the new rule and seek ratification from both the owners and the Players Association in time for the 2014 season. Owners and players also are expected to approve an expanded use of instant replay, which continues to take shape.
“Well, it’s a great day because we’re moving forward and taking this out of the game,” Bochy said. “Players are bigger and stronger and faster and we’ve already seen how dangerous these plays have become. We’re changing our culture, sure. But we’re moving forward. These plays do not need to be a part of our game.”
Bochy carried the torch on the issue to eliminate intentional collisions at the plate, remaining committed to changing minds and hearts despite initial opposition. Just one year ago, MLB vice president Joe Torre said he did not see the need for a rule but pledged to be open minded.
Bochy was able to convince Torre and also many of his fellow managers. He even swayed Angels skipper Mike Scioscia – perhaps baseball’s greatest plate-blocking catcher during his playing days – to his side.
Although some managers were hesitant, any who had reservations or objections stood silent in a morning meeting during which Torre spelled out the need to protect players from significant and avoidable injuries.
Alderson said the need for the rule became clear after many incidents in recent years, and not just the high-profile collision between Buster Posey and Marlins baserunner Scott Cousins in 2011 that resulted in a fractured leg and three torn ankle ligaments for the Giants’ bright young catcher.
There have been several devastating hits in the minor leagues, as well. And with so much more awareness over concussions and brain trauma, both in baseball and in the NHL and NFL, taking no action might have left the league open to liability cases down the road.
Alderson mentioned the NCAA rule in which runners must slide into bases, which might serve as a baseline as they draft the various permutations of how the rule will be written and enforced. But a runner ruled to have intentionally collided with a catcher would be called out even if he isn’t tagged. There likely will be a disciplinary element as well. And umpires likely will be able to use instant replay, much as college football officials can go back and look at the tape to determine whether a helmet-to-helmet hit is intentional and warrants an ejection.
“It’s little more complicated than it would appear," Alderson said. "But I think ultimately what we want to do is change the culture of acceptance that these plays are ordinary and routine and an accepted part of the game. The risks and costs associated in terms of health and injury just no longer warrant the status quo.”
Cardinals catcher Mike Matheny, whose career ended prematurely because of a series of concussions, also spoke passionately about the debilitating nature of brain trauma.
Opinion throughout the industry has taken a major shift since May, 2011, when Posey got bowled over in fair territory as Cousins tried to dislodge the ball and score the tiebreaking run in the 12th inning of a game at AT&T Park.
When Bochy first lobbied for a rule change to take the home-plate collision out of baseball, there were plenty of detractors who called him soft or accused him of whining only because he lost his star player.
There’s no question that the injury, sustained by a high-profile rookie of the year on the defending World Series champions, served as the tipping point. For many, this change will be forever called “the Buster Posey rule.”
But that’s the last thing Bochy wants. He’s said many times, and repeated it on Wednesday, that he felt it was time for a change back in 2002 when Gary Bennett of the Padres got taken out in an otherwise clean hit by the Dodgers’ Brian Jordan.
Another Giants catcher, Todd Greene, sustained a career-ending shoulder injury when the Brewers’ Prince Fielder plowed into him in 2006.
Posey declined comment after learning of the league’s intent to draw up new rules. He has said in the past that he would support additional safeguards for catchers, but did not want to be looked upon as the reason for implementing them.