It is one of the most enduring images in Marlins history. Catcher Ivan Rodriguez somehow managed to hold on to the ball after being knocked to the ground in a jarring collision with the San Francisco Giants’ J.T. Snow.
Freeze that dramatic frame from the 2003 playoffs.
Such plays could soon become a thing of the past if new rules are implemented that would prohibit violent home-plate collisions between runners and catchers.
The very thought is producing groans from Marlins catchers, who showed up Sunday with pitchers for the team’s first official spring training workout. They would prefer to keep things just the way they are.
“I’ve been thinking about it for two months now,” said Marlins catcher Jeff Mathis.
Said new Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia: “I don’t agree with it. It’s been in the game since the beginning. You’re going to end up getting more people hurt than helped by trying to change the rules.”
At the moment, nobody is sure exactly what to expect. League officials are working on coming up with new rules that are expected to be implemented before the start of the season.
But the widespread belief is that at the very least, the rules will prevent catchers from blocking the plate, and base runners from barreling into catchers in an attempt to jar the ball loose if the throw beats them to the plate.
“We are writing a rule,” Joe Torre, a member of the Playing Rules Committee, told MLB.com in January. “It’s not finished being written because it’s not easy. But in essence, we’re going to just make sure that the base runner can’t just purposely bowl somebody over.”
It’s far from a universally popular decision.
“It’s a hard one for me to swallow,” said former Marlins outfielder Jeff Conine, who made the throw to Rodriguez that was turned into the final out of the ’03 division series. “It’s a part of the game that we have lived with for so long. As a baseball guy, it’s a part of the game I would rather not see go away.”
But recent injuries to catchers — and one, in particular, to Giants All-Star Buster Posey — prompted action by the league to put an end to violent collisions at the plate. Posey sustained a season-ending leg injury in 2011 when the Marlins’ Scott Cousins plowed into him.
For catchers like Mathis and Saltalamacchia, it’s a dangerous — yet necessary — part of the game.
“I understand where they’re coming from and I get it, trying to make the game safer,” Mathis said. “But I just think it’s going to be really tough to all parties involved. It comes down to me keeping that guy off the plate, and there’s been so many times where me sitting on the plate and being taught the way I was taught, it prevented a run.”
Marlins manager Mike Redmond, a catcher in his playing days, isn’t fond of the idea, either. He recalled with fondness an old drill in which the catchers on the first few days of spring training practiced working on home-plate collisions.
“We had these drills before where we used a tackling dummy, and you’d run catchers over, which I always loved,” Redmond said. “You’d run into the catcher — bang-bang play at home — to kind of get a feel for it. I thought it was one of the best parts of the first couple of days of spring training.”
The Marlins didn’t break out any tackling dummies for Sunday’s workout.
For that matter, with no rules of any kind to go by, Marlins coaches didn’t provide any instruction to catchers on dealing with plays at the plate. Everyone’s waiting to find out what the new rules will say, first.
This much, Redmond said, is certain: “We just won’t do any contact drills. That’s totally out.”