MLB should take lessons from college baseball

It's Sunday, May 15, and with the series tied at one game apiece, the Oregon Ducks and the Stanford Cardinal are locked in a back-and-fourth battle to decide the series. The Ducks have a 6-5 lead, but the Cardinal are threatening to tie the game late.

Stanford has runners on first and second with two outs in the top of the eighth. The Cardinal hitter, Zack Jones, sends a single through the hole between first base and second base.

The Cardinal third base coach waves the runner, Dave Giuliani, home from second. Oregon right fielder Aaron Jones fires the ball home, as a bang-bang play is about to develop.

Oregon catcher Brett Hambright fields the throw about four feet up the third baseline with the 200-pound Giuliani barreling down the line. It all created for a textbook play at the plate.

The NCAA implemented a "Collision Rule" (Rule 8.7 in the college baseball rulebook) prior to the 2011 season. The rule states, in part, "Contact above the waist that was initiated by the base runner shall not be judged as an attempt to reach the base or plate."

If the umpire determines that the contact at the plate violates Rule 8.7, the runner is out and can be ejected.

Giuliani tried to avoid Hambright, but the tag was applied keeping it a one-run game.

Now we'll travel to The Show.

I don't need to describe to the horrific sight for San Francisco Giants fans in late May at AT&T Park. It's what spawned from the Scott Cousins and Buster Posey collision that could change one of the more iconic plays in professional baseball.

 

Different opinions, including the one of Giants General Manager Brian Sabean, have been tossed around where people have debated the legality or cleanliness of the play.

It has been a shame that Cousins has been vilified the way he has. This was by the book in terms of not only the runner, but where Posey positioned himself as well. Posey positioned himself slightly up the first base line in order to leave the back side of the plate open for the runner.

The throw from Nate "The Great" Schierholtz arrived at the plate before Cousins, meaning Cousins' job--especially in extra innings of a tie game--is to dislodge the ball. Posey wasn't able to come up with the ball, but it was too late for Cousins to change his approach to the plate.

The play illustrates the cost of a rule that seems to tailor to the interests of the fans rather than the players.

A couple of the most lasting images in professional baseball are the Ray Fosse, Pete Rose collision in the 1970 All-Star Game, as well as "Pudge" Rodriguez raising the ball after being mowed down by J.T. Snow, clinching the 2003 NLDS for the Florida Marlins.

But the season or career ending collisions are never mentioned for more than just a couple of days. Apparently it takes the fall of one of baseballs golden boys to start a conversation that's long overdue in baseball--I think Indians' catcher Carlos Santana would agree.

Baseball is not a contact sport, yet the MLB jeopardizes the seasons and careers of catchers by selling the excitement of a home plate collision. The MLB can't sell its product to a wide enough audience on the basis of the intricacies of the game. If they could, last years World Series wouldn't have had one of the worst rating in its history. It answered the question of what would prevail between great pitching and great hitting?

But that didn't sell, so the game has to sell aspects that bring shock value.

In the meantime, teams like the Giants have to learn the reasons why a franchise player cannot play catcher.

Why would a team build around a twenty-something year old that risks being bowled over on a nightly basis? Players like Joe Mauer and Posey are born to be catchers, and the suits writing their checks already have to prepare for a short shelf life for their behind the dish guy--the natural wear-and-tear of the position forces many catchers to change positions.

Then the league decides to turn catchers into human bowling pins.

Defenders of this rule point to the history and roots of the game--collisions have always been a part of the game. Well, there was a time when African Americans were not allowed to play. There was also a time where it was acceptable for a runner to take-out a middle infielder turning a double play; regardless of how far from second base he was standing.

Maybe the issue isn't as much with what fans are buying, as it is with what professional baseball is selling.

If baseball were a contact sport, runners would have free reign sliding into second base. The purity of baseball is honored on the field, except at home plate. That is where the game is cheapened.

It's no wonder the public didn't buy in to the 2010 World Series--it didn't have the shock value the league has decided to sell.

My hope is that Joe Torre and the MLB look at the changes made at the college level. The NCAA doesn't want to endanger the futures of their young players, and the MLB shouldn't either. How often can we say the NCAA gets it right? But in this case, they are the blueprint for honoring the way baseball should be played.

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