Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

While Maddon Jokes, Matheny's View of Collisions Evolves

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

While Maddon Jokes, Matheny's View of Collisions Evolves

Article excerpt

While many of his teammates would race to the video after a game to plumb their at-bats, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny used to review his collisions when he played for Milwaukee and later the Cardinals. A catcher who took great pride in blocking the plate at all costs, since before age 10, the Gold Glove-winner wanted to "make sure I didn't give any ground."

Years later, he now does.

"As a manager I need to keep my guys on the field," he explained Sunday in the dugout. "You're not going to soften (baseball). The true toughness of the game is playing every single day. That's what separates us from every other sport. It's not the collisions. It's not the impact at second base. That's not what the challenge is. Our challenge is to get back out there every single day. There is enough of a grind that no other sport has had to deal with. For us to put guys intentionally in a situation where they can get hurt just doesn't make sense."

Matheny's evolution from roadblock at the plate to champion of new rules that seek to eliminate collisions personifies baseball's quiet culture war that influenced Saturday's game.

In the fifth inning of the Cardinals' 5-3 victory, Cubs rookie Ian Happ attempted to break up a double play by sliding hard and clean into second base. Aledmys Diaz had no chance to attempt a throw, and Happ probably would have been safe had he not slid past second base and lost contact with the bag. That now, automatically, is interference and it proved costly for the Cubs. A run was waved off and the inning was over. Matheny called it a "momentum-changer" for the game.

The Cubs had other choice descriptions.

"The game was meant to be played a certain way," Cubs lefty Jon Lester said. "There was nothing wrong with that slide that Happ did. I told him in the dugout, next time, do the same thing. That's baseball, man. We're out there playing with a bunch of (wimps) right now. I'm over it. I'm over this damn slide rule, replaying if it was too far and all this other BS, man. We're all men out there. We're grown men."

Cubs manager Joe Maddon offered some Swiftian rule changes such as cup checks for base coaches, outlawing the headfirst slide "Your eye can be poked out," he told reporters and imposing facemasks on all hitters. At the same ballpark where Juan Encarnacion's career ended because a foul ball partially blinded him as he stood in the on-deck circle, Maddon mused that a cage should be constructed around the batter. He referred to baseball's actual rules as "protectionism."

Lester called it "soft."

Matheny once stood before the commissioner and suggested he, too, was concerned about softening the game by taking away collisions, a play he felt kept him in the major leagues. But the cost was too great, he added. That play contributed to the concussion that ended his career. …

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