Smartest position, ha!
Hamid, of The Roman Empire fame, has found this clip of an all-time classic Jays moment, where Buck Martinez breaks his leg halfway through the first and last 9-2-7-2 double play in history.
Buck’s career was over, but it doesn’t get much better for a 38-year-old catcher. Now every time I see him on TV he’s being asked reverently about his crowning moment of glory rather than the preceding 17 seasons during which he hit .220. A much better fate than Ray Fosse, who chose halfway through his rookie season for Pete Rose to posterise the end of his promising career:
Anyway, watching this clip got me thinking about what a bizarre part of the game “running the catcher” is. Here we have a decidedly non-contact sport, where slapping at the ball (a la Alex Rodriguez on the way to first) is considered shocking and ungentlemanly, where inside fastballs to star players can start bench-clearing brawls. All of a sudden there’s a close play at the plate, and it is considered acceptable- no, mandatory, to deliver a bone-crunching tackle.
The rules state if a player is being blocked and cannot reach the plate, he can collide with the catcher. But there’s a big grey area if the catcher doesn’t have the ball (which is also when he’s at his most vulnerable- looking elsewhere and not braced for impact). You’re not really supposed to hit him, but he’s not really supposed to be there. Last year Zaun changed lanes on a play that was not even close and drilled some unsuspecting rookie so the ball would roll to the backstop, and there were no complaints. It’s become acceptable not just to incidentally collide, but to target the catcher if he is anywhere close to the plate and the ball is somewhere in the air. What’s more- you can do ANYTHING! Here’s an elbow to the head- that would be a serious penalty in Hockey, for crying out loud!
I know, I know...it’s “the most exciting play in baseball”. The game is on the line, and you can't help but get the chills when a catcher puts himself out there as as the heroic last stand against scoring the run. But I can’t help but think that with players getting bigger and stronger every day, soon someone like Mauer is going to get broken forever on a questionable hit by a former linebacker and it will be a big Bertuzziesque controversy with people throwing their hands up saying “who knew that would happen?”
As a bonus, here is the reason you don't touch the plate in softball. Notice how he manages to get her in mid-air...and on an infield fly, no less: