Why can runners hit catchers—and only catchers?

Dale from Bainbridge Island, Wash., writes:

Question for a Hardball Times editor:

This question is sparked by the Josh Harrision-Yadier Molina collision, but it’s something I have talked about before. If a home-plate collision is “just good, clean, hard baseball” (as it’s typically termed), why aren’t there good, clean, hard baseball plays at other bases?

For example, later in the game, Mike McKenry hit one into the gap in left-center. Matt Holliday cut it off and threw to second in plenty of time to get McKenry. McKenry simply slid into the tag. Why didn’t he execute a good, clean, hard baseball play, lower his shoulder and knock Skip Schmaker into short left field?

(The score was 8-0 at the time, which might have been one reason, but even had it been 0-0, McKenry still would have slid into the tag rather than trying to knock the ball loose as is fairly routine at home plate.)

I should tell you that the writer is not a baseball neophyte. He’s Dale Bye, former sports editor of the Kansas City Star, former managing editor of The Sporting News, a baseball history buff and a longtime friend. Oh, and he’s a Cardinals fan (could you guess?).

I threw the question out to The Hardball Times community of writers and editors, many of whom like nothing better than an excuse to discuss baseball in the midst of a midweek workday. It sparked a lively discussion, excerpted here:

—Joe Distelheim

Joe Distelheim: Of course, there’s debate (Buster Posey, last year) about whether running into the catcher should be allowed or at least should be subject to new tests. I’m sure the traditional distinction is safety-based, figuring the catcher is better-protected.

Steve Treder: Well, there used to be “good, clean, hard baseball” collisions at other bases. Hal McRae was famous for them, as were lots of other baserunners in that era and before. But since then, the leagues have cracked down on those plays, simply because of the injury risk to infielders. They’re still old school regarding the play at the plate, presumably because the catcher is not only better protected in terms of his gear but also is more likely to see the play before him and be less likely to be off-balance than an infielder.

Dale Bye: I believe the McRae collisions were to break up double plays, not to jar the ball loose on tag plays. Maybe back in the Ty Cobb days there were tag-play collisions at other bases, but I don’t recall any from the ’50s on. In fact, my impression from the earlier days is that high spikes was the norm, not collisions. Wasn’t Ducky Medwick a high-spikes player?

Ed DeCaria
: Two related questions: Would there be collisions at the plate if the catcher didn’t first attempt to block it? Would there be frequent collisions at other bases (particularly first base) if the fielder DID routinely attempt to block it?

Dale Bye: Catchers do sometimes try to stonewall the plate, but third basemen sometimes—I don’t think it’s often—stick their foot in front of the bag so that the sliding runner hits their foot, not the bag. Same at second sometimes on stolen-base attempts. This infrequently works only because infielders know the runner will slide in, not barrel in.

Greg Simons: You can run through home plate (assuming you touch it along the way) and be safe. Over-run the other bases, and you can be tagged out.

Steve Treder: Exactly.

Bruce Markusen:
To pick up on Steve’s point, players like McRae, Don Baylor, and Frank Robinson used to execute what was called a “rolling block” on second basemen and shortstops on double play attempts. The rolling block is now outlawed. And while catchers are allowed to block the path to the plate, technically they are only supposed to do so when they already have the ball. But many catchers “cheat” and start blocking the plate before the ball arrives in their glove.

Ed DeCaria:
Thanks, Bruce. But what I still don’t understand is why, in an otherwise contact-less game (hit-by-pitches excepted) with a half dozen other flavors of interference, is it still within the rules for the most heavily armored player on the field to force incoming runners to have to go painfully through him or cleverly around him to reach their destination? It’s akin to allowing golfers to hit cleanly off the tee, independently play the fairway and rough, but once they get on the green, their opponent is allowed to dump a pile of tees in front of the hole.

Why not just make it illegal to block the plate and suspension-worthy to knock down a catcher who isn’t blocking the plate (which may already be the case, I don’t know)? I’m curious—do any of you really like plate collisions? They’ve always seemed very un-baseball-like to me, but I’m guessing that others may like them for one reason or another.

Brad Johnson: I enjoy a good, “clean” plate collision. As a kid, I used to love to watch Pete Incaviglia destroy catchers. As a grown-up pseudo-analyst, it seems like it’s past time to remove this from the sport. Hell, even football doesn’t allow most heavy contact these days … it’s bad business.

Steve Treder: I’ve never had a particular problem with it, inasmuch as it’s been a part of the sport since forever (thus everyone can expect it). But I agree, it’s the 21st century and probably time for MLB to disallow it.

Bruce Markusen:
Why is there a differentiation between home plate and the three bases? Part of it has to do with the catcher having equipment that provides special protection, but I think part of it involves the “value” of home plate. Plays at the plate are essentially more important than plays at other bases. If the runner is safe at home, not only is an out not recorded, but a run scores; if the runner is out, the potential run is wiped out. It’s the most valuable piece of real estate on the infield.

Dale Bye:
The consensus seems to be that the catcher has an advantage because of the tools of ignorance. However, I’m not sure that’s true in a concussion situation. The catcher is more or less stationary. My understanding of concussions is that in most cases it’s not the initial hit that causes the concussions—Harrison’s shoulder into Molina’s noggin. Instead, it’s the whiplash effect that sends Molina’s brain sloshing across to violently slam into the other side of his skull.

The gear probably does protect catchers from things like broken collarbones and cracked ribs and the like. Maybe from broken jaws or orbital socket fractures, too, if the catcher leaves on his mask. But to some extent, a catcher is a bit like a quarterback, standing in there to be pelted by an incoming human projectile. It also seems to me that far more catchers get injured in such collisions than baserunners.

At other bases, players execute fancy hook slides or slides in which they go in head-first and try to snag the base on their way by or other such deals. But an additional problem at the plate is that the catcher doesn’t have a glove that’s as adept at holding onto the ball for a sweep tag.

So, readers: Let’s keep the discussion going. Please feel free to use the comments section below.

References & Resources
The Official Baseball Rules make clear that a runner isn’t allowed to interfere with a fielder attempting to make a play on a batted ball, or with a thrown ball. But they don’t deal specifically with this question of infield bases vs. home plate.

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Comments

  1. Jacob Rolling Rothberg said...

    Millionaire athlete has to take contact as rare occurrence on the job. Won’t somebody please think of the children!

  2. bucdaddy said...

    Apropos of not much, I just want it on the record:

    Yadi: 5-foot-11, 225 pounds*
    J-Hay: 5-foot-8, 190 pounds*

    For the Cardinals complainers who think the mean old Pirates should pick on someone their own size: OK, but who do you have who’s that short?

    *—SOURCE: bb-ref

  3. David P Stokes said...

    This was actually touched on yesterday in the comments to the “Half-baked ideas, Vol 1”.  Basically, it already is against the rules for the catcher to block the plate when he doesn’t have the ball.  Just enforce that rule, and you’ll see a lot less collisions at the plate.

  4. hopbitters said...

    Anybody know the injury rates on plays at the plate vs other catcher and non-catcher situations? I have my suspicions, but they’re purely based on my admittedly biased memory.

    I’m in agreement with Bruce that the value of home plate plays a role in the scenario. As well it should. I don’t think anybody wants to see players get injured, but we are talking about a violent sport here. That may not necessarily be a result of direct and intentional player contact, but there are probably 150-200 players currently on the DL with every manner of injury, predominantly from routine play.

  5. ignacious said...

    J-Hay left his feet to make the hit on Yadi, plus the fact the outside part of the plate was wide open speaks volumes on the play.
    He clearly chose what he was going to do and we all saw the results

  6. Jacob Rolling Rothberg said...

    This is a dumb argument based mostly on Cardinals fans trying to make it seem that they aren’t bitching about one their players getting hurt in a normal play, but are concerned about the safety, welfare, and fairness of the game of baseball writ large. I don’t see any of them coming on here to pillory Jake Westbrook for endangering Josh Harrison by hitting him with a pitched ball for doing what any other player would do in that situation.

    If it was Salvador Perez or Yorvit Torrealba or John Jaso who got blown up, nobody would bat an eyelash.

  7. Paul G. said...

    Sliding into a man equipped with body armor who is acting as a wall is not exactly the safest of plays either.  At least not for the runner.  Derek Jeter’s shoulder would like to have a talk.

    I tend to agree that enforcing the current rule that the catcher cannot block the plate – not even a little bit – without the ball would reduce collisions significantly.  Not only would this avoid contact, it greatly reduces the most dangerous contact of a half-distracted catcher getting blindsided while trying to catch the ball.  If a catcher gets run over blocking the plate without the ball, well, he’s cheating and serves him right.  Get out of the way next time.  Let that be a lesson to ya.

    Now if you want to go further, you could ban running into the catcher in the following circumstances:

    1. The catcher is not obstructing the plate.  (May be illegal already but enforcement could be stepped up.  If the catcher does not have the ball, this is simply a cheap shot anyway and should be penalized with ejection/fine/suspension.)

    2. If the ball has clearly beaten the runner, the runner must slide, attempt to avoid the tag, or retreat.  These collisions tend to be nasty as the runner is more or less out and his only hope is to sufficiently hurt the catcher to drop the ball.  The tricky part is defining what is “clearly beaten.”  Perhaps there could be a line drawn similar to the running lane down the first base line for guidance.

    This retains the home plate collision, but only on close plays where the runner and ball arrive at roughly the same time, the catcher is blocking the plate, and both players have a reasonable claim to the spot.

    Of course, the other option is simply to make it illegal for the catcher to block the plate ever.  He has to straddle the plate like an infielder, or he has to tag from the side, or he has to run up the line and tag him before he gets near to score.  Is it just me or does it seem like there is an assumption that the catcher is the victim here?  He’s obstructing a base!  Tell him to move!

  8. Tom B said...

    I notice it’s often a bench player or a AAA player just called up that plows the catcher during meaningless games.  A few years ago Cervelli had his arm broken in ST.  Really?!  This is where we need collisions in the game?

    Alot of the same excuses I see on this page are used by hockey fans to justify fighting in that sport.  Not a fan of that either.

    No reason for allowing collisions in baseball anymore.

    Pitchers should also suffer a more harsh penalty for hit batters.  Go straight to second base, do not pass go, do not collect $200. smile

  9. jj said...

    It all really should depend on when the catcher gets the ball and where.  If the catcher is blocking the plate before he receives the ball and the player has to go thru him then the player should be called safe.  If the catcher gets the ball then goes in for the tag which would mean is can block the plate for the tag (just as a firstbaseman stands on the baseline to tag out a batter when the ball rolls up the line)If a runner runs the catcher over in this instance he is called out on interference.  It puts the judgement on the umps to call obstruction on the catcher or interference on the runner. If the ball, catcher and runner all arrive at the same time then I guess we have a legit collision opportunity.

  10. Pochucker said...

    Im old and old school. I understand its all about the money now. But I was trained by my father who played in the 30s-50s and he taught me if the ball is there before you dont slide run through base—needless to say I had more than few altercations on field.

  11. John Q. said...

    I think it bears noting, amongst all the “it only happens if the catcher blocks the plate” justifications, that this premise simply isn’t true (unless your definition of “blocking the plate” is so expansive as to include any catcher having the audacity of standing anywhere within several feet of the vicinity of the plate).  Consider, for example, Buster Posey’s season-ending injury—Posey was well away from the plate in the direction of the mound, but Cousins nevertheless came barreling in looking for contact and left the basepath to end Posey’s season—and most simply called that a “good, clean baseball play.”

    I’m willing to concede that catchers who truly make themselves a wall between the runner and the plate might deserve the contact that they draw—however, the flip side of that must be that players like Cousins who go hunting for contact should bear an equally-extreme punishment for their actions when the catcher hasn’t established a position clearly blocking any legal approach to the plate.

  12. Duke said...

    One change that can (and I believe should) be made is that the runner must avoid hitting the catcher’s head.  With what we know about concussions now this seems reasonable; even football does it now!

  13. Plasmaj said...

    If any other fielder did what a catcher does in terms of blocking the plate, the runner would be ruled automatically safe due to interference. The onus is to change what the catcher is allowed to do, not the runner

  14. Fenderbelly said...

    I recently read this idea (or something like it) somewhere but I can not remember where… sorry for the lack of attribution.

    Greg Simon’s comment above made me think – there is one other base that you can run through and not be tagged out – first. Also, all plays leading TO first are force outs. It would be an extreme solution, but I can see an argument for making all plays at home force outs as well. Currently the runner can overrun the bag so they have no incentive to slide, thus more collisions.

    I don’t think that I actually LIKE this idea – I love a “WE’VE GOT A PLAY AT THE PLATE!” as much as the next guy. But it does fit a certain logic. Alternately, we could let first base men block the bag as well and turn this into a real contact sport. Fielder, Howard, Pujols, Goldschmidt… that will take the “scrappy” right out of your utility infielder.

  15. Sparky11 said...

    MLB really should adopt the highschool/college “malicious contact” rule….franchise players such as the teams starting catcher should be protected along the lines that the NFL rules protect QB’s….the only reason it wont happen is because it makes good TV highlights and some knuckle head fans are there like in NASCAR and NHL cause they want to see the fights and crashes….

  16. RMR said...

    Baseball is not better for plays like Pete Rose ending a Fosse’s career and Buster Posey losing most of his age 24 season.

    I for one would love to see a rule change so that if the fielder blocks the plate with any part of his body other than his glove-hand arm, the runner would be awarded the base.  And on the flip side, if the base-runner purposefully leaves/alters his path to the base to interfere with the defender, he is automatically out.

    This isn’t football.  Waiting for the catcher to make the catch and the swipe tag would be just as exciting as when he plays goalie—with a lot less risk of injury to either player.  The game is meant to be played hard, but allowing this kind of contact creates an unfair dilemma.  Remove the contact; period.

    And I’d extend this to plays at a base where the fielder drops his leg down in front of the bag to block a tag; no bueno.  Regaridng double plays, once a base-runner has called out, he must make every effort to avoid interfering with the defense.  Close play at second, go for the bag.  Easy out, get out of the way.

  17. mike said...

    Running over the catcher is not allowed at any level college and below.  No child is ever taught this and it is only learned by watching the pro’s do it. Its not hard to slide.  Just slide. An umpire can rule that an infielder has interfered with the play, he can easily make the same ruling with a catcher.  If you dont have the ball, get the hell out of the way.

  18. Sparky11 said...

    minor correction to the comment by Plasmaj…the runner would be safe due to obstruction not interference….also note in high-school and college ball hitting the catcher (or any fielder) is called “malicious contact” and it does not matter if the fielder is obstructing or not…the runner is out and ejected…

  19. southside mike said...

    As a former catcher, I enjoyed the occasional collision at the plate.  I was well taught to position myself correctly and always leave a small portion of the plate exposed.  Should the runner decide (erroneously) to run me down and not slide, I curled down, presented a well-placed shoulder to the sternum, while protecting the ball and mitt waist high.  I then proceeded to lift the mitt, ball, and player into the air by straitening up, and pushing the arms (with glove & ball) outward and upward.  After observing a few collisions the opposition learned to slide for the open edge of the plate.

  20. john ziccardi said...

    Throwing a blow at another player is the real issue. Baserunners throwing blows at the catcher should be banned. The elbow, the two-fisted pump shot at the catcher, the shoulder to the body that has seriously injured so many catchers, similar acts are not baseball plays but assault moves; they aren’t attempts to dislodge the ball from the glove, they’re body blows thrown at the catcher. Ban these attempts to injure from baseball.

  21. bucdaddy said...

    RMR,

    Rose didn’t end Fosse’s career. Fosse played 120 games that year and put up an OPS+ of 124, so he seems to have been doing pretty well after the hit.

    Well, let’s take a look. In 1969 Fosse hit 172/230/250, which is terrible.

    In 1970, he had a great first half, hitting 312/366/527. That’s an HoF three months there.

    In 1970, he had a decent second half but didn’t hit with the power he showed in the first half: 297/353/361. I’d still take that out of my catcher. Wouldn’t you?

    Now the five years after that were much more like 1970B than 1970A, with some 1969 thrown in (1974, 1975), which I suppose suggests a couple possibilities: The Rose hit cut down a brilliant career in midseason, or perhaps Fosse played far over his head for 78 games in 1970A, and his true skill level was somewhere between 1969 and 1970B.

    Anyway, in 1976, he had another pretty good year, with an OPS+ of 110 (301/347/362), SIX YEARS after the hit. So, like most players, he had some up and down seasons. It’s true he never came close to 124 again, but that could also be attributable to the general wear and tear on a catcher.

    In any case, it’s just not true that Rose “ended Fosse’s career.” He went on to a lengthy, if mediocre, career afterward. He had three months on an HoF trajectory and some decent seasons and some awful seasons. He certainly wasn’t the first or the last guy to be brilliant for half a season and then settle into mediocrity.

    But we’ll never know, will we?

  22. rennie stennett said...

    please, stop the insanity. the game was meant to be played hard, please let the athletes decide what their limits are.

    molina set up and put himself in harm’s way, and in this case he got the out but paid for the consequences. it’s not so different than the CF that breaks a wrist diving for a ball, or the 3B that tears a knee running into the railing on a foul ball.

    nobody wants to see guys get hurt, but please let them play hard. it’s the only way to play the game.

  23. sparky 11 said...

    yoooo…Rennie…. nobody wants the game played with any less determination or effort…your examples of other aggressive plays dont even relate to the situation of one player going out of the way to drill another…Im sure you would feel different if Manny Sanguillen got cheap shotted and never played in ‘71

  24. rennie stennett said...

    sparky, i appriciate the manny S. reference b but it’s your examples that don’t hit the mark. one, molina (no concussion) missed 2 games—not a whole season. two, molina himself said afterward it was a clean play, not a cheap shot as you infer. three, harrison did not go out of his way to drill molina, molina blocked the plate and set himself up for a collision.

    good ole’buster posey is now instructed by the mngmt to no longer block the plate. if molina’s handler’s feel the same way, maybe he’ll follow suit unless it’s dee gordon rounding 3rd… but my guess is that molina/harrison both do the same thing again given the scenario. gamers.

  25. Bad Bill said...

    I’m as much of an advocate for “tradition” in baseball as anyone, but arguing for continuing to allow big collisions at home because they’re “traditionial” overlooks one very important point: the players are a great deal larger, and probably faster, than when that “tradition” was established, yet the ability of the human body, notably the brain, to take a hit hasn’t changed much.  bucdaddy’s point above has some merit, in that Yadier Molina is built like a tank and can absorb some punishment.  If Harrison had laid a comparable hit on the average vintage-1940 catcher, who was 35 or 40 pounds smaller than today’s catchers (literally—I did the research on this—check out old catcher vital statistics some time), extremely serious injury or even a fatality wouldn’t have been out of the question.  “Tradition” would look very different now as a result.

    My only beef specifically with the Harrison-Molina collision was the lowered shoulder; compare yesterday’s big bang between Jones and Hintz, where Chipper nailed Hintz hard but without the lowered shoulder and resulting damage to the catcher.  (Note also that Hintz wasn’t “blocking the plate,” he was about five feet up the line.  That, in my opinion, was interference, plain and simple.)  But to dismiss the need for change, solely on the grounds that that’s the way baseball has always been, overlooks the point that while “baseball” has always been that way, baseball PLAYERS are a great deal different now than when the traditions were established.  When a tradition becomes severely outdated, it should be discarded, and we’re in that situation now.

  26. Bad Bill said...

    Oops.  I repeatedly wrote “Hintz” when I meant “Kratz,” specifically 255-pound Erik Kratz who was on the receiving end of that thunderous hit by Chipper.  Read that again: 255 pounds.  That is literally 50% greater than many of the catchers circa 1940, in the “good old days” when men were men and catchers blocked the plate with impunity.

  27. mando3b said...

    Great discussion here. I think, in the end, that the most important points are: you can over-run the plate with impunity; if you touch the plate, you score; and the fielder’s technique for making an out there is different than at the other bases; tradition does count: there are ingrained expectations on all sides. That being said, I agree that people need to take a hard look at the ramifications of having collisions at the plate, and make some serious adjustments before we have something worse than the Buster Posey play. Simply enforcing the no-blocking-without-the-ball rule would be a great place to start: let’s see how much collisions are reduced with that, and then take it from there . . .

  28. bucdaddy said...

    Philip,

    I follow what you’re saying, but:

    a) You’re working off a three-month sample that indicates greatness. Lots of guys do that and fall off a cliff after. I’m not sure why you limited yourself to comparisons only with other catchers.

    b) As always, correlation does not (necessarily) equal causation.

    I guess we can quibble over the meaning of “lengthy.”

    Look, I’m not saying you’re wrong, either. Just noting some reasons you might/could be. I could be wrong too. Just, kind of my larger point is that people today, when they hear about the Rose/Fosse collision, might get the impression Fosse never played a game again and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair, or played a few more games and had to quit. That’s simply not the case. He played seven more seasons. Rose may have ended a Hall of Fame career, but he didn’t end his career.

  29. Philip said...

    Don’t mean to pick on bucdaddy, but…

    bucdaddy said…

    ‘‘RMR, Rose didn’t end Fosse’s career.’‘

    True enough… Then again, neither did Graig Nettles end Bill Lee’s career either. But Lee was never the same pitcher afterward (and that Bosox-Yankee bench-clearer had all started over a collision at the plate when Lou Piniella tried to knock the ball out of Carlton Fisk’s hand).

    bucdaddy said…

    ‘‘Well, let’s take a look. In 1969 Fosse hit 172/230/250, which is terrible.’‘

    Fosse was 22; he had 16 prior big-league at-bats prior to 1969. He had only 116 at-bats in 1969.

    Gabby Harnett’s rookie year stats at age 21 looked like this: .194/.256/.236. Terrible? Sure. Did it stop him from eventually making the Hall of Fame? Nope.

    Fosse, who at one point had a 23-game hitting streak, had already hit 16 HR’s by the AS break in 340 ABs (a homerun ratio of 21.25). After that, he hit 43 the rest of his career in 2746 ABs (63.86).

    He had played the rest of the 1970 season with a fractured and separated left shoulder – that wasn’t diagnosed correctly until the following spring – and that still gives him trouble today.

    Fosse’s CS% (% of runners thrown out) in 1970 was 55%. The league average was 39%. Three years throwing runners out but otherwise was basically at or below the league average. Yes, he threw right-handed (the left shoulder injury would have a more serious effect on his power numbers and stroke than his throwing arm). But the guy was playing in a lot of pain.

    bucdaddy said…

    ‘‘In 1970, he had a great first half, hitting 312/366/527. That’s an HoF three months there. … he had a decent second half but didn’t hit with the power he showed in the first half: 297/353/361.’‘

    ‘‘He certainly wasn’t the first or the last guy to be brilliant for half a season and then settle into mediocrity.’‘

    Since 1901, of 23-year old catchers with a minimum of 400 plate appearances, Fosse’s full 1970 season ranks 5th for slugging (.469). Nokes, Cater, Hartnett and Mauer rank ahead of him. Not bad company. If he stayed on pace with that .527, he’d have ranked 2nd.

    Almost every catcher aged between 22 and 24 who put up slugging numbers like Fosse did in 1970 had long, productive careers. His .469 full season slugging pct. would rank 27th; his AS break slugging pct. of .527 would rank 9th – above the numbers that Gary Carter and Lance Parrish would put out at those ages. Four of the top 10 are Hall of Famers.

    Only 18 catchers have hit more than 18 homeruns in any given season when they were aged 22-24. Of those five are Hall of Famers. Not in the Hall but included on that list are Mike Piazza, Ivan Rodriguez, Lance Parrish, Benito Santiago, Ted Simmons, current Atlanta Brave Brian McCann and current Tiger Alex Avila.

    A list of catchers have a season hitting .290 or better, slugging .400 or better and knocking out at least 18 homeruns, aged 21-25 would be only 20. Of those, we’re talking about 16 individuals – including Fosse. The list is chock full of Hall of Famers and All-Stars.

    Simply put, catchers of that age who put up numbers like Fosse didn’t settle into ‘‘mediocrity.’’ The closest catcher on that immediate above list to ‘‘mediocrity’’ would be Ed Baily, who played 14 years and was an All-Star five times.

    bucdaddy said…

    ‘‘Anyway, in 1976, he had another pretty good year, with an OPS+ of 110 (301/347/362), SIX YEARS after the hit.’‘

    Tony Conigliaro put up numbers of 266/324/498 with 36 HR and 116 RBI – three years after being hit in the eye with a pitch.

    bucdaddy said…

    ‘‘He went on to a lengthy, if mediocre, career afterward…. He certainly wasn’t the first or the last guy to be brilliant for half a season and then settle into mediocrity. But we’ll never know, will we?’‘

    I wouldn’t exactly call it ‘‘settling’’ into mediocrity.

    Nor would I call only three more seasons with 100+GP a “lengthy” career.

    Fosse’s huge power drop and batting average was almost certainly the result of the shoulder injury.

    Herb Score said the shoulder injury and then playing hurt with it messed up Fosse’s swing and effected him for the rest of his career.

    Fosse did have other injuries after 1970, including knee injuries. But the shoulder injury was by far the most serious one.

    Could Fosse have had a Hall of Fame Career? Like bucdaddy says, ‘‘well never know.’‘

    He put up similarity scores at age 23 and 24 to that of Thurman Munson’s (over 960 each of those years in similarity).

    Fosse was the first catcher drafted in MLB’s first amateur draft in 1965. The Astros had heavily scouted him and eventually it was Indians who picked him – 7th overall. That has to say something about their scouting reports from his performance in high school and he proved those scouts right in his first full major league season.

    That plus, thirty picks later, the other Ohioan team drafted another high schooler catcher: Johnny Bench.

  30. Philip said...

    Clarifying:
    Fosse’s CS% (% of runners thrown out) in 1970 was 55%. The league average was 39%. Three years later he was throwing runners out at that clip but otherwise was basically at or below the league average.

  31. Philip said...

    bucdaddy,

    You’re absolutely correct that Pete Rose didn’t end Ray Fosse’s career. It happened over 40 years ago and many people likely do have that mistaken impression. You’re right to point that out.

    I limited the study to catchers only since Fosse was one, the wear-and-tear on catchers is greater than for any other position player and the sample size included all in his age group since 1901 and therefore was fairly large.

    But whether using Fosse’s pre-AS break stats and extrapolating them for a full-season or even using his full 1970 stats without even adjusting for the injurt, either way shows an almost certain much more productive career.

    On one hand, Ray Fosse might have had a career more like Ed Bailey or Matt Nokes. Or he may have had a career numbers like Gary Carter or Lance Parrish. But it’s highly doubtful that – if not for that career-altering injury – he would have put up career stats similar to, say, Ray Fosse.

  32. hopbitters said...

    Just to throw some more wood on the fire, Fosse had injuries to both hands (in separate incidents), I believe in the very next season. I honestly don’t remember the severity or cause of them (I’m thinking the one was from a brawl, but my memory is pretty fuzzy).

  33. Cobb said...

    —If any other fielder did what a catcher does in terms of blocking the plate, the runner would be ruled automatically safe due to obstruction. The onus is to change what the catcher is allowed to do, not the runner—

    That would indeed fix it.  Many catchers know the timing is short, they must move before they know for certain they have control of the ball.  It is indeed a choice made by the catcher that forces a response by the runner, despite what the numerous ‘my catcher got hurt’ posters might claim.  It is a part of the game for the simple reason that runs win the game.  Blocking the plate can cause runners to stop at third – and then they might never score.  Removing it from the game?  Sure and then maybe we could watch a safe game of tiddly-winks too.

    “There’s no crying in baseball!”

  34. Roy in Omaha said...

    As somebody who saw every bit of Hal McRae’s career I can say that I never saw him run into anyone with any intention other than of breaking up a double play. He was far from the only Royal doing it, either.

    I am O.K with the catcher getting run into because the umpires unilaterally do not enforce the rules where they are concerned, anyway. It’s is against the rules for the catcher to block home plate. The rules specifically state this, even. Why this is allowed to continue, I don’t know. If they can do this with impunity then players can run into them as far as I am concerned. Bill James covered this topic well in “The Historical Baseball Abstract” The practice is out and out illegal. Here is a great web posting on the topic:

    http://miscbaseball.wordpress.com/2011/05/26/the-mlb-rulebook-bill-james-and-the-buster-posey-scott-cousins-collision/

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