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Time to eliminate collisions for good

I once thought contact in a non-contact sport was fun. That was until players started getting hurt.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Back in 2011, a play occurred that changed baseball as we know it. Fans were treated to an extra-inning affair during a May match-up between the (then) Florida Marlins and San Francisco Giants. In the top of the 12th inning with Scott Cousins on 3rd base and Omar Infante on 1st, Emilio Bonifacio lifted a shallow fly ball to right-center field. Right fielder Nate Schierholtz camped under it and unleashed an on-target throw home, but it short-hopped catcher Buster Posey, and as he turned to make an attempted tag of Cousins, a violent collision occurred at home. Cousins plowed into Posey, breaking Posey's leg and also tearing three ligaments in his ankle.

Several years later, Major League Baseball instituted new rules that effectively banned collisions at home plate. Though the rule has been a bit convoluted at times, it essentially boils down that the catcher cannot block home plate without possessing the ball first and the runner cannot deviate from the direct line between his current position and home plate to initiate contact with the catcher. As you could see in the Posey clip linked above, he wasn't fully blocking home plate, and Cousins clearly was more interested in dislodging the ball from Posey than he was over touching home plate as soon as possible.

Well, we just had the second coming of the Cousins/Posey collision a few days ago, except this time it happened at second base. This time, the New York Mets were trying to turn a double play against the Los Angeles Dodgers. With Chase Utley at 1st base and a runner at 3rd, batter Howie Kendrick sent a soft liner up the middle. Second baseman Daniel Murphy snagged it and made an underhand flip to shortstop Ruben Tejada in an attempt to start the double play. However, Utley deviated from his direct line - just like Scott Cousins - and made absolutely no attempt to slide - just like Cousins - and had a violent collision with Tejada that ultimately did severe damage to the fielder - just like Cousins did with Posey.

Now, in the Posey clip, we saw that Cousins immediately knew something was wrong and checked on Posey. It sure appeared as though his intent was not to injure the catcher, but simply to ensure that he would score the go-ahead run in an extra inning game. Likewise, Utley claimed that he wasn't trying to hurt Tejada, but was attempting to break up a double play so the Dodgers could score the tying run in the bottom of the 7th inning of a playoff game. Well, he also ended up breaking Tejada's leg with the play.

From what I recall, Cousins wasn't suspended in any way for his play because, well, it was still part of the game. We all remember Torii Hunter being the wrecking ball in the demolition of Jamie Burke years ago, where we all lauded Hunter for his actions. The Cousins play sparked worry, and now the Utley play has brought upon rage.

After all, I think it's correct in saying that banning collisions at home plate while still allowing them at second base is very quizzical. In fact, collisions at second base are so prevalent that MLB even ensured that of all the things you can possibly review during a replay challenge, the "neighborhood play" - where a middle infielder turning a double play comes off the base early but is credited with the out anyway - could not be challenged because MLB wanted to protect its players.

That's right, Major League Baseball was worried about injuries so much that they continued to encourage a play that is necessary simply to avoid injuries, instead of, you know, just banning those collisions outright. Oh, and the kicker on the Tejada/Utley collision was that Tejada never actually touched second base, rendering Utley's attempted break-up moot.

When MLB first instituted their new rules at home plate, I'll admit that I was upset. I am not a traditionalist in any sense, but I thought it was fun to see the occasional collision at home plate. Like I mentioned before, us Twins fans were pumped seeing Torii Hunter run over Jamie Burke. I remember the Twins winning a game when the baserunner successfully knocked the ball out of a Molina brother's glove, allowing a second run to score, along with the respective Molina suffering a broken wrist on the play.

However, that was when I was younger and a little dumber. Watching players get hurt isn't fun. Not to say it ever was in the first place, but my distaste for them has only grown. Perhaps it was from watching Justin Morneau essentially have his career dismantled by a concussion suffered by a simple knee to his helmeted head at second base. Maybe it was the horror of Byron Buxton colliding with Mike Kvasnicka last year and having to watch his lifeless body for several minutes. Watching contact in what is supposed to be a non-contact sport just hasn't been as enjoyable as it used to be, so now I greatly wish that MLB would wise up and eliminate all contact players at second base.

I think a simple rule such as what we see in youth sports would be good. Slide into the base if there's a play. Actually enforce the whole "you must be able to reach the base when you slide" rule as well. Anyone deviating from their straight path to the base to initiate contact should immediately be called out. Hopefully this can also remove the neighborhood play so we can stop calling runners out that were truthfully safe simply so the middle infielder could safely avoid a collision.

Of course there will be some that are displeased with this idea. But remember, I was one of those as well. I was a bit irritated that it took the injury of a star player to get MLB to make a change. Ruben Tejada is no star player, but his injury, especially after seeing the Pirates Jung Ho Kang suffer a similar fate on a similar play, has magnified the current hypocrisy in the game. I used to think that runner/fielder collisions were part of the game. It's time for that to be no more.