Baseball’s Five Worst Home Plate Collisions
With the home plate collision outlawed, here’s a look back at five memorable and bruising moments when the runner and catcher legally played crash.
The runner’s coming home. So is the baseball. The catcher throws his mask to the side, stands his ground and awaits the throw. The suspense builds, and it’s palpable. Will he score? Will he be tagged out? And will anyone survive baseball’s version of demolition derby?
The home plate collision is one of baseball’s most exciting plays—or at least it was before becoming outlawed after the 2013 season as concussions became more prevalent and the game’s owners, with intensified investment in their catchers, are no longer willing to tolerate the risk.
What follows are five of the game’s most memorable collisions at home plate, though they’re not memorable to the catchers who may have no recollection of the moment.
June 28, 1974: A Fisk-full of Pain
Carlton Fisk was one of the game’s great young, rising catchers. He was tough as nails behind the plate, seriously dedicated and an excellent hitter to boot. His Boston Red Sox placed a chunk of equity into him as the heart of soul of the team’s present and its future. By all appearances, that investment suddenly dried up in the eyeblink of a crash on a Friday evening in Cleveland.
The game between the Red Sox and Indians was on the line. Gaylord Perry, seeking his 14th straight win for Cleveland, had finished the top of the ninth having maintained a 1-1 deadlock; now it was up to his teammates to try and make him a winner. But Boston’s Dick Drago looked to have Perry matched, retiring the first two Indians to start the bottom of the ninth. Then he walked Leron Lee, and George Hendrick followed up with a shot that hit off the base of the wall. Lee, running on contact, sped around the bases and closed in on Fisk, while Boston shortstop Mario Guerrero took the throw from the outfield, pulled a Johnny Pesky and hesitated before firing high towards the plate. Fisk had to reach high to grab the throw, leaving him vertically extended and vulnerable to Lee—who laid into Fisk.
Lee’s run ended the game, and it nearly end Fisk’s career. Having a terrific season to that point, Fisk tore ligaments in his left knee; not only was he told he’d never play again, but he’d likely have back problems for the rest of his life. Neither prognosis turned out to be true; Fisk was back a year later and played for nearly two more decades, on his way to the Hall of Fame.
July 9, 1985: Two Outs for the Price of a Broken Leg
Every catcher on this list lost the confrontation with the baserunner in terms of the injurious aftereffects, but Toronto’s Buck Martinez made the most of his painful sequence that resulted in a season-ending broken leg.
Seattle’s Phil Bradley led off the bottom of the third inning of a scoreless game at the Kingdome with a single, then advanced to second on a balk from starting pitcher Tom Filer. Gorman Thomas, the muscular slugger exiled from Milwaukee, next hit a sharp grounder through the hole into right field, and Bradley made the charge at Martinez, who took the throw and was flattened as he tagged Bradley out. Lying on his back and staggered with a broken leg, the veteran part-time backstop came to his senses quick enough to discover that the slow-footed Thomas was trying to make a break all the way to third; firing from his back, the throw went wild and past the bag. Thomas figured he had an easy run in his sights, but left fielder George Bell threw home—where Martinez, still lying on his back, somehow made the grab and tagged out Thomas, who never expected it and was doing a strange, tip-toe dance by Martinez that ended one of the most bizarre double plays of all time.
The final play of Martinez’s 1985 season kept two runs from scoring and gave the Blue Jays life in a game they would win in 13 innings, 9-4; nearly three months later, Toronto would capture its first divisional title by two games in the AL East.
May 25, 2011: Hissin’ Cousins
Like Fisk before him, Buster Posey was deemed the future of the San Francisco Giants; A number one pick, he earned the NL Rookie of the Year award in 2010 as he helped lead the Giants to their first World Series title in over 50 years. After a slow start to the 2011 campaign, Posey appeared to be getting his A-game back into gear, having hit safely in 13 straight games when Scott Cousins said hello at home plate.
In the 12th inning of a 6-6 tie at AT&T Park, the visiting Florida Marlins were threatening. Cousins, a second-year bench player who grew up locally and idolized many Giants, reached first on a failed sacrifice bunt, advanced to third on an Omar Infante single, then tagged up for home on Emilio Bonifacio’s shallow fly ball to right-center. Posey wasn’t blocking the plate, but Cousins went after him anyway, barreling Posey over—and wrenching his left leg in the process, breaking a knee and tearing several ligaments. In intense pain, Posey slapped at the batter’s box dirt in agonizing frustration.
The run would win the game for the Marlins, but Cousins likely would have taken it all back. Posey’s season was done, and with it the chances of the Giants repeating as world champions, while Cousins became the Bay Area’s Most Wanted in the worst way, receiving death threats. Giants general manager Brian Sabean didn’t necessarily calm the atmosphere when he publicly called out Cousins as “malicious” and stated that the Giants “have a long memory.” The collision also ignited the discussion on banning such smash-ups at home plate, talk that gained traction (not the kind that held up Posey’s leg cast) and eventually resulted in the rule that would officially outlaw the play starting in 2014.
October 8, 1939: Bombarding Lombardi
After winning the first three games of the 1939 World Series, the New York Yankees were one victory away from becoming the first team ever to win four straight championships, and nothing was going to get in their way—as Ernie Lombardi, the Hall-of-Fame catcher for the Cincinnati Reds, was about to find out the hard way.
The Reds blew a 4-2 ninth inning lead and now, in the 10th, were struggling to keep the Yankees from mounting a go-ahead threat. With one out and runners at the corner, Joe DiMaggio singled, immediately sending home one run (Frankie Crosseti) from third; Charlie Keller, feeling frisky, decided to take a shot at scoring all the way from first and, arriving at the plate as the same time as the throw, connected with Lombardi. It wasn’t a direct hit, but enough to jar the ball loose and leave Lombardi dazed. Seeing that Lombardi was struggling to regain his senses, DiMaggio followed and slid past the catcher while Cincinnati players, believing the play was dead, did nothing to help out Lombardi. The three runs tallied on the play sealed the Reds’ fate and gave the Yankees their fourth straight title.
Jubilant, the Yankees celebrated on the train back to New York singing, “Roll out, Lombardi, we’re having a barrel of fun!”
July 14, 1970: Brutality as Exhibition
For the longest time, the All-Star Game was a friendly occasion, a festive party for the game’s best players; beyond a little pride and avoiding injury or embarrassment, nothing major was at stake. But every game was Game Seven of the World Series for Pete Rose; after all, he wasn’t called Charlie Hustle for nothing. (Even that nickname was born out of an exhibition environment when Yankee pitcher Whitey Ford tagged the sobriquet on a young Rose during a spring training game.)
Rose was selected to represent the National League All-Stars for the 1970 Mid-Summer Classic, held before his home fans at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium. Among those on the American League roster was Cleveland catcher Ray Fosse, who some believed was evolving into the AL’s Johnny Bench, Rose’s teammate on his way to winning the 1970 NL MVP award. It was the first All-Star appearance for the 23-year-old Fosse—with many more certain to follow.
With the game knotted at 4-4 in the bottom of the 12th, Rose—who had replaced starting outfielder Hank Aaron in the fifth—began a two-out rally with a single to center field. Los Angeles’ Billy Grabarkewitz moved him to second on a single of his own, and then the Cubs’ Jim Hickman laced a shot up the middle that gave Rose, running on contact, a chance to be the hero. Taking his win-at-all-costs brand of baseball to its zenith, Rose zeroed in on a defenseless Fosse and struck him hard on his left shoulder, knocking him flat and scoring the winning run.
Despite taking the notorious hit, Fosse amazingly missed no action upon returning to the Indians—though he should have. It wasn’t until the following year that it was discovered he had fractured and separated his shoulder in the incident; the initial X-rays showed excessive inflammation that hid that evidence. Fosse hit well (.297) for the remainder of 1970, but without the power that had gotten him voted to Cincinnati. It was apparent he would never be the same; his game depreciated year-by-year until his career ended barely after 30. Fosse has never received any apologies or remorse from Rose, but if it makes him feel any better, when Rose was sent to prison for tax evasion in 1990, he was locked up in Marion, Illinois—Fosse’s hometown.