Matheny wants to ban home-plate collisions
A former catcher, Cardinals manager has change of heart about plays at dish
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has changed his mind completely when it comes to collisions at home plate, and he is looking forward to explaining his position to Major League Baseball. Matheny has requested a meeting with Joe Torre, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, to discuss the matter.
Matheny, who was a big league catcher for 13 seasons, explained on Tuesday morning that he has come to believe baseball should and eventually will ban home-plate collisions. It's a viewpoint to which he's only recently come around.
A concussion ended Matheny's career, but Matheny said that was only a small factor in his change of heart. More importantly, he has seen his own children suffer concussions playing sports, and seen collisions from a different vantage point now that he's managing instead of playing.
Torre recently told the San Francisco Chronicle that he is willing to listen to opposing views, but that he is not in favor of a change in the rules. Matheny emphasized his respect for Torre, also a former catcher, but still said he wants the chance to plead his case.
"I know the league wants to do the right thing and I know Joe does a great job," Matheny said. "So that's my prelude.
"But I do believe that this game will get to the point where there will no longer be a collision at the plate. And I am 100 percent in support of that."
Matheny framed it primarily as a risk-reward matter, explaining that any increase in the entertainment value from collisions is outweighed by safety concerns.
"I'd just love to hear the rebuttal," Matheny said, "because what I've personally witnessed was enough for me to change my mind. It actually took me a little longer 'till I got to the realization of the risk we're putting these guys in -- and the runner, too. The runner is stuck in a spot sometimes where if he doesn't do it, he feels like he's let his team down. Take it out of their hands. This isn't a collision sport. There's enough of a physical grind with guys being out there for 162 games. We've got the physical aspect of this game. It doesn't need to include that one spot."
To Matheny, it can't simply be a matter of banning runners from charging the plate. Any rule change, he argued, must also include a provision preventing catchers from blocking the plate entirely. In essence, he believes baseball should treat plays at home plate like plays at the other three bases.
Matheny explained that the Cardinals teach their catchers not to block the plate entirely, so as to allow runners some area where they can slide. But he also said that as long as the rules are written as they are now, catchers must always be prepared for the possibility of a collision.
"While the rule is intact right now, we have to prepare every play," Matheny said. "The problem is, if you ever get to that point, and even teaching it this year, let's try to get out of the way, whenever you do that, you put yourself in position to get hurt. So we're going to teach it the exact same way, with blocking the plate and preparing for collision. It's all about your health. If you can come up with the ball, it's a bonus. But right now, it's just protect yourself, and that sounds awful even when you say it: the play is to protect yourself.
"I understand old school, and I consider myself an old school player, as far as the way I go out and the way I was taught the game. I just don't see the sense in it."
Matheny also said that St. Louis players are instructed not to seek out collisions, not to be "headhunters," unless they have absolutely no other way to score on a play at the plate. Still, Matheny made it clear that he's a realist. Until and unless the rules are changed, collisions will continue to happen -- and that's what Matheny hopes to prevent.
"We're talking about the brain," Matheny said. "It's just been so shoved under the rug. I didn't want to be the poster boy for this gig, but I was able to witness in ways I can't even explain to people how that altered by life for a short period of time and changed the person that I was. It's scary. So that being said, you look at this game, can this game survive without this play? And I say absolutely. You're putting people at risk."
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.