A's Norris sees gray areas in collision rule change

A's Norris sees gray areas in collision rule change
December 12, 2013, 5:45 pm
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Raul Ibanez's hard hit on A's catcher Derek Norris won't soon be forgotten, but it was Buster Posey's 2011 collision that made the league take notice. (USATSI)

A’s catcher Derek Norris won’t soon forget a 2012 play when the Yankees’ Raul Ibanez knocked him in the jaw during a violent collision at home plate.

“He caught me pretty good,” Norris recalled. “I couldn’t eat for a few days.”

Those moments have always come with the territory for catchers, and that’s what makes Major League Baseball’s plan to eliminate home-plate collisions such sticky territory.

Norris naturally takes an interest in this proposed rule change, which could take effect next season if owners and the players’ union give their approval.

He’s one of many catchers around the majors who received a group text message from union leaders, outlining some of the details being discussed in the proposal

“I think they’re moving in the right direction,” Norris said. “But I think it’s going to take some tinkering to achieve what guys consider fair on both sides.”

The call for rule changes involving home-plate collisions came into focus after the Marlins’ Scott Cousins barreled over Giants catcher Buster Posey in 2011. Posey suffered a broken lower left leg and torn ankle ligaments that ended his season.

But there’s also growing concern about the impact of concussions, a topic most closely associated with the NFL but one that’s carried over into other sports.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy and St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, both former catchers, made presentations at this week’s winter meetings about the need to limit contact at the plate. Complications from concussions ended Matheny’s playing career.

But there’s many details to hammer out. The rule changes reportedly would prohibit runners from targeting catchers, and catchers from blocking the plate, with possible disciplinary action for those who violate the rules.

That leaves lots of gray territory, Norris said, because of unintentional contact that can happen on certain plays.

“Does it become a judgement call?” he asked. “If a throw brings you up the line, there’s nothing you can do. You can’t let the ball go through and let it go into the dugout.”

The movement to ban collisions has drawn criticism, notably from Pete Rose, whose violent crash into catcher (and current A’s broadcaster) Ray Fosse in the 1971 All-Star Game is one of the most infamous moments in major league history.

“What are they going to do next, you can't break up a double play?" Rose told the Associated Press. “You're not allowed to pitch inside? The hitters wear more armor than the Humvees in Afghanistan. Now you're not allowed to try to be safe at home plate? What's the game coming to? Evidently the guys making all these rules never played the game of baseball.”

Some current players also spoke out (or tweeted out) against the rule changes, including one of Norris’ teammates.

“No more home plate collisions?! What is this? NFL quarterbacks are catchers now?" A’s right fielder Josh Reddick wrote on Twitter.

“Nothing better than getting run over and showing the umpire the ball. Please don't ban home plate collisions,” Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez tweeted.

Although the idea of trying to keep players safer is commendable, there are other scenarios during a big league game that present just as great a danger as home-plate collisions -- defenseless pitchers getting struck by line drives and shattered bats that go flying toward infielders or fans, to cite a couple.

There’s only so much you can do to eliminate risk, Norris said.

“I’m all for making the game (safer) for guys, but a guy can dive for a ball in left field and injure himself and end his career too. There’s never going to be a decision where everybody is happy.”