Science Behind Ban On Home Plate Collisions

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ABOVE VIDEO: This is a montage of over 50 home plate collisions, which demonstrates the raw physical ferocity and violence typical of the play that has been banned by MLB. (Video by ciccoandtheguys)

EDITOR’S NOTE: It turns out that there is some very sound science behind Major League Baseball’s (MLB) recent approval of a ban on home-plate collisions in which the base runner barrels into the catcher in an attempt to jar the ball loose and score.

The excerpted article below from Med Page Today reports on research out of the Department of Family and Community Medicine, at the Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, NC. that concludes catcher tag outs carry greater injury risk than typical base running plays and MLB should prohibit these home plate collisions.

One of the most famous home plate collisions in MLB history saw Pete Rose of the National League barrel into American League catcher Ray Fosse at the 1970 All-Star Game in Cincinnati.
One of the most famous and violent home plate collisions in MLB history saw Pete Rose of the National League barrel into American League catcher Ray Fosse at the 1970 All-Star Game in Cincinnati. Fosse sustained a fractured and separated shoulder.

In a press conference last month MLB executive vice president of baseball operations and Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said, “This is in response to the general occurrence of injuries from these incidents at home plate that affects players, both runners and catchers–and also the general concern about concussions that exists not only in baseball but throughout professional sports and amateur sports today.”

MLB plans to eliminate home plate collisions, possibly as soon as next season but no later than by 2015.

Under the proposed rules changes:

• Catchers will not be allowed to block home plate.

• Runners will not be permitted to target the catchers.

• The question of whether or not the plate was blocked or the runner targeted the catcher will be reviewable, with an immediate remedy available to the umpires.

• Catchers or runners who violate the new rules will be subject to disciplinary action.

Of course there will be some “old-school” detractors of the rule change who believe that the rough and tumble action at the plate is just part of the game and should be left alone. However, the move has extensive support of players and owners, clearly decreases the risk of injury and protects player’s careers and owners’ financial assets.

—Dr. Jim Palermo

MED PAGE TODAY – Major League Baseball plans to ban home plate collisions as early as this year’s season – and a new study suggests that may be a good play.

In a paper published earlier this month in the International Journal of Sports MedicineDaryl Rosenbaum, MD, and S.W. Davis, of Wake Forest University, found that from 2002 to 2011 there were seven injuries per 1,000 tag outs at home plate, compared with about one-and-a-half per 1,000 plays involving throws to second or third base from the outfield. Double play attempts were even less likely to lead to injury.

“Plays at home plate were 4.3 times more likely to cause an injury, and that was statistically significant,” Rosenbaum told MedPage Today. And in home plate plays, the runners were slightly more likely to be injured than the catchers.

While the typical injuries were somewhat different — sprains and dislocations at home and in double play attempts, fractures for outfield throws — there were no differences in injury severity, based on how many days players spent on the disabled list.

Research out of Wake Forest School of Medicine concluded that catcher tag outs carry a 4.3 times greater injury risk than typical base running plays and MLB should prohibit these home plate collisions to protect player safety.

Rosenbaum was surprised to find only two concussions, but he said that may reflect changes in the way those are diagnosed.

“The lower extremities were a bit more at risk for injuries, perhaps because the runner was sliding into the catcher’s legs, or because the runner was leading with his legs,” he said.

So why are home plate collisions so much more dangerous than other baseball injuries? Rosenbaum explains:

“You have a runner speeding from at least 90 feet away, headed toward home plate, motivated by the chance to score a run for his team, and then you’ve got a catcher, outfitted in armor, basically, standing, trying to block that plate, and you get a collision of high force and velocity.”

Ryan Crotin, an exercise physiologist who works with the Baltimore Orioles, used the now-infamous 1987 collision between Bo Jackson and Rick Dempsey to illustrate. The play broke Dempsey’s thumb.

Jackson was extremely fast – once timed running 40 yards in 4.12 seconds – and also big, at 230 pounds during his playing days. Because of how short the contact between Jackson and Dempsey lasted, the force of the impact was about three times higher than it would have been had Jackson slid into Dempsey while trying to avoid the tag.

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