Jeff Berry is an agent, and he wants to protect his investment.
It’s understandable that, after watching one of his star clients get seriously injured in a play during a game, that he might initially react with the idea that there should be a way to avoid such an injury in the future. But when the injury happens to San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey in a collision at home plate as the Florida Marlins’ Scott Cousins is trying to score the go-ahead run in the 12th inning, there’s not much he can do.
Berry went so far as to contact both Major League Baseball — speaking to head of on-field operations Joe Torre, who broke into the majors in 1961 as a catcher — and the players union once he’d made further reviews of the play. The video does indeed support his contention that Posey was set up in front of home plate as Cousins was barreling toward him.
What is also clear from watching the video is that, while it’s true that Cousins went after Posey to knock the ball loose, it was in part because Posey was trying to catch the ball and lean backwards into the path of Cousins as he was heading for the plate. That ill-advised move is in part why Posey’s legs were in a position to be caught under him, allowing Cousins to break his leg and possibly cause knee damage.
Posey is likely done until August at the earliest, and Berry is upset about that. He seems more upset than Giants manager Bruce Bochy — a former Major League catcher — who said it’s a regrettable incident and one of the toughest plays in the sport, but he didn’t see things changing any more than Torre did. For that matter, neither does Angels manager Mike Scioscia, a highly-respected field boss who used to be a highly-respected backstop.
ESPN’s Buster Posey agrees with Berry that something has to be done, citing the millions of dollars invested in Posey by the Giants and his relative importance to the team. Posey notes that the book Moneyball helped change perceptions about baseball that had stuck around years beyond their usefulness simply because “That’s the way it’s always been done.”
But by that same token, umpires have been proven so fallible in recent years with the improvements of video replay and every game being televised everywhere now that for the sake of accuracy they could have been replaced by sensors and computers. Yet while Buster might be in favor of increased replay, to take the umpires out of the action entirely would affect the basics of the game.
Home-plate collisions are patently different from umpiring, I know. Careers are affected by these collisions, and this plus the everyday wear and tear on catchers got the Nationals to draft stud Bryce Harper and immediately make him an outfielder, not to mention have the Twins thinking about moving Joe Mauer out from behind the plate.
The thing is, for some like Mauer and perhaps Posey, what they bring to the position of catcher is an inherent part of their value. Move Mauer to right field as some have suggested, and he becomes Ichiro Suzuki without speed or as much defense, and maybe not even as much power.
It’s a decision every team has to make as to whether the dangers that come with putting on the tools of ignorance — they’re not called that for nothing — outweigh the benefits of having a star player in the lineup at the position. Olney argued that this kind of play in a game in May could keep Posey out of games in September now, but by winning that May game it might make the September game less necessary to win. Every game means the same, as does every win.
In the end, this event alone isn’t likely to spur major reform in the game. If Pete Rose’s violent hit on then-23-year-old catcher Ray Fosse to win an All-Star Game in 1970 — one that permanently injured Fosse’s shoulder, very likely altered and shortened his career and still causes problems — didn’t bring anything more than a little resentment from Fosse not for the play itself but for things Rose said years after the fact, then why this play?
Maybe Jeff Berry is having flashbacks. He was once a player himself at UNC-Charlotte — a catcher. And I can understand that he wants to protect other catchers, especially ones that he has a personal stake in. And with the rarity of home-plate collisions these days, maybe there is something to be done to help phase them from the game.
But it’s not a matter of playing too hard in May, or a dirty play on the part of Cousins. It’s simply an unfortunate incident that highlights one of the dangers of a non-contact sport.