Baseball is a tough game, and among its toughest players are catchers.
A new rule going into effect in the major leagues this season protects catchers – to a great extent, not completely – from unprotected collisions at the plate.
Why protect these guys wearing shin guards, chest protectors, cups, helmets and masks? Why take away what traditionally has been a sometimes intimidating part of the baserunners’ arsenal? Is baseball going soft?
No. The sport’s keepers are acknowledging modern realities, some physical, some common sense and some financial.
Thirty years ago, players such as Dave Parker were baseball rarities, huge, fast men whose physiques stood out among the relatively slighter builds of players who preceded the weight-room era. Now, even smaller players are built like running backs, meaning just about every player rounding third presents a threat to catchers waiting to handle throws – rarely one-hop perfectos – with arms outstretched and the baseline roughly bisecting their stance.
Even the toughest linebacker could be undressed in an unprotected collision with a 200-pounder at ramming speed.
The cost of such collisions has become prohibitive, too. Good catchers are hard enough to find and develop, great ones rarer still. Nobody – catchers, teammates, the players’ union, owners – wants these guys vaporized for the sake of an old-school macho ethos. Plays at the plate are exciting enough without injury.
Big-league catchers won’t say so – because they are, you know, catchers – but one can bet they see wisdom in a move that will help keep them on the field and more or less in one piece.