I don't know why this didn't become a scandal during the season, but I'm wiling to put it out there now, consequences be damned: The St. Louis Cardinals' pitching staff spent the bulk of the 2013 season throwing 95-mile-an-hour fastballs at their best player. All of us saw it; all of us, victims of the bystander effect, failed to act. A lesser man than Yadier Molina might have broken under that kind of bullying; whether he's for it or against it himself, baseball's decision to move forward on banning home-plate collisions is good news for his employers.
This is not the sort of thing that will push catchers into games-played parity with other position players; at best it will prevent a couple of especially bad season-ending injuries and reduce the day-to-day wear and tear catchers experience. But I'm excited about it anyway, if only because of Pete Rose's predictable distaste for it:
"I’m a traditionalist," he said. "I thought the game has always been pretty good. About the only major changes they’ve made to the game since 1869 was when they lowered the mound afrter the 1968 season and the designated hitter. I mean, the game is going pretty good, isn’t it?
I've got nothing against traditionalists, but I don't think the label goes very well with a willful disregard for actual history. Setting aside the procedural changes--how many balls for a walk, whether the pitcher walks around a box or stands on a mound, whether the batter calls for the pitch he wants or is forced to guess--baseball has, since well before 1869, made all sorts of changes that can be related in some way to manliness, if you're desperate for that sort of thing.
1860s Pete Rose, in the course of Charlie Hustlin' around the basepaths, would find it in his best interest to duck when the short stop had the ball, because "soaking" a baserunner--we used to call it 'winging a baseball at a guy'--was one way to get him out.
That sounds painful, but that's probably not the only reason it was cut out of the rules. It's just a terrible idea--it's one of the first things that comes to mind when you have a baseball in your hand and a guy who needs removing from the field of play, but it fails in an incredibly messy way. You hit the baserunner and--well, then you need to run and get the ball, which is probably rolling around his feet. You miss him and it's rolling around someone else's feet, and you've just introduced a new and abundant class of throwing errors, one where a guy who isn't trying to catch the ball successfully avoids catching the ball. The defensive grace and fluidity of baseball is dependent on the ball not spending most of the day on the ground, rolling to a stop in the open field.
Some people are happy to stop at the idea that hitting a guy as hard as you can isn't baseball--the implication, I think, being that it's football--but it's better to say why this isn't baseball. It's not baseball because the grace and fluidity of baseball has little to do with how well you're able to hold onto a baseball while another guy tackles you. A play at the plate is about the agility of the catcher, the speed of the runner, the strength and accuracy of the throw--it's about skills and situations that show up again and again in the game tied together at its most suspenseful moment. Even if it had been around since 1869--and it hasn't--the home plate collision is a baseball non-sequitur.