It is baffling that in the age of the bigger, stronger baseball players, a collision at home plate would create such a stir in the baseball community.
And yet this is exactly what happened when Mark Teixeira hammered Angels rookie catcher Bobby Wilson on Friday night in a nasty meeting of bodies at home plate. Wilson was taken to the hospital and reportedly has a sore ankle and a nasty headache, but there seems to be no long term effects from the blow. But throughout the baseball universe, writers and fans have divided into factions, with one side justifying the hit as part of baseball's unwritten codes and the other lamenting the violence of Teixeira's act.
Recently Mark Teixeira's old teammates have been vocal about the hit, indicating their belief that it was "payback" for the Ervin Santana fastball that drilled Teixeira and put him on base in the first place. Angels' center fielder Torii Hunter told reporters, "He had the plate, we know that. He could have slid feet-first or gone to the right and swiped it with his hand. But that's baseball. Sometimes, catchers get hit. We can sit here and analyze all day if it was dirty or bad, but there's nothing we can do about it."
Conversely, Hunter's manager Mike Scioscia called the incident, a "clean play." His opinion (a manager and a former catcher known for his old school tendencies) compared to Hunter's take on the play is indicative of the change in the mindset of the players over recent years. While in Scioscia's day (and prior to that), the game was a literally a battle on the field. Free agency and expensive contracts have created a country club-like atmosphere amongst many of the athletes, which is insulting to the lineage of the game.
Hunter and any writers or fans that have a problem with Teixeira hitting a catcher needs to learn something about how the game is supposed to be played. Yankees' manager Joe Girardi (another ex-catcher) said it perfectly when asked his opinion over the play and why Teixeira didn't help his opponent up after leveling him, "This isn't a family reunion softball game," Girardi said. "I don't ever remember anybody helping me up."
Pete Rose most definitely did not help up Ray Fosse after he blasted the catcher in the 1970 All-Star Game. So focused on scoring the winning run — even in an All Star game — Rose nailed Fosse so hard he separated the catcher's shoulder and essentially ended Fosse's season. As a result, Rose scored the winning run.
In 1973, Thurman Munson tried to score from third on a missed bunt to break a 2-2 deadlock between the Yankees and Red Sox. He did the exact opposite of helping up his fellow catcher and rival Carlton Fisk after going airborne and brutally smashing into him at home plate. He punched him square in the face.
As far back as Ty Cobb slamming his sharpened cleats into the chest of opposing catchers, collisions at home plate have been a part of the game. At times, catchers AND runners are hurt in the process. But when the contest is on the line and a run must be scored, a real ballplayer will, should, and must do anything to ensure he crosses the plate safely.
Cobb, Rose, Munson, Fisk, and even Scioscia played with a win-at-any cost approach on the field that is all but gone from most major league rosters today. Instead of wailing about the horrific act of Teixeira running into a catcher, the player should be praised that, despite his big contract and promising future, he is willing to put his body on the line and play that hard to win.
And in a league where a pitcher can throw at a hitter and never face the repercussions of entering the batters box himself, if there was a certain level of payback in Teixeira's action, that too is part of the game.