Johnny Bench puts Buster Posey at fault
Hall of Famer Johnny Bench says Buster Posey's season-ending injury was the result of a mistake on the Giants catcher's part.
Bench, who knows all too well the physical toll of playing catcher in the major leagues, says preventing collisions at the plate is a major key to the success of any catcher.
"Buster was a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award (as the top collegiate catcher in 2008) and is a great kid -- I called him after the World Series last year," Bench told the Tulsa World this week. "When I heard about the injury, I was anxious to see how this happened. Buster put himself in such a bad position."
Buster is laying in front of home plate, and it's like having a disabled car in the middle of a four-lane highway. You're just going to get smacked.” -- Hall of Famer Johnny Bench
Posey, last year's NL rookie of the year, was knocked out for the season on a play at the plate with Marlins outfielder Scott Cousins last week, a sequence that resulted in widespread, vexing rhetoric -- and apologies from both sides.
It also sparked debate on whether a change to baseball's baserunning rules could help avert injuries like Posey's.
Umpire Joe West, the president of the World Umpires Association who was feet away from the impact that sidelined Posey, assures it's only part of the game -- "just as much as apple pie."
"You ask me if I'm upset that a good, young player got hurt. Yeah. Is it unfortunate? Yeah. Is it part of the game? Yeah," West said, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
"I can't tell you I would change anything, It's one of those things that's part of baseball, just as much as apple pie. You can't change the rules because it's been that way forever."
West said a key part of the play had been missed in the aftermath.
"What they're failing to look at is that (Posey) dropped the ball before the guy got there," West said. "That's why he was in a vulnerable position. That's why he was trying to find the ball. If he had caught the ball, he could have got his hands up and he could have defended himself. He could have absorbed the blow with both arms and his glove.
"It's like a receiver going over the middle in football. If he bobbles the ball a couple of times, the linebacker is going to kill him."
Bench, a spring training instructor for the Reds, was playing in his third All-Star Game in 1970 when Cincinnati teammate Pete Rose barrelled over Ray Fosse at the plate for the game-winning run in the bottom of the 12th inning.
Fosse, a rookie catcher for the Cleveland Indians, was seriously injured on the play, his promising career permanently scarred.
Cousins' run also came in the 12th inning to send the Marlins past the Giants 7-6.
"First of all, my catchers don't sit in front of home plate. They stand away from home plate and work back to the plate," Bench told the Tulsa newspaper. "But we (catchers) are just fair game. You've got a guy running around third base at 210 to 220 pounds with 3 percent body fat and with sprinter's speed."
Cousins, a rookie, has been receiving death threats despite repeatedly apologizing for the May 25 collision that left Posey with a broken bone in his lower left leg and three torn ligaments in his ankle. He's had surgery and is done for the season.
"I teach my kids to stay away from the plate when you don't have the ball so the runner actually sees home plate and his thought is, slide," said Bench, who has undergone hip replacements on both legs in the past seven years after a 17-year career that ended in 1983. "But Buster is laying in front of home plate, and it's like having a disabled car in the middle of a four-lane highway. You're just going to get smacked."
Posey has said he felt Cousins could have slid around him but also said it was a legal play.
"Show them the plate," Bench said. "You can always catch the ball and step, or step and catch the ball, as long as you've got the runner on the ground. And if you have the runner on the ground, there's less chance of any severe collision."
In a statement released Saturday by the Giants, Posey sought to distance himself from the reported death threats.
"I appreciate the continued support of Giants fans and others as I begin the process of working my way back," Posey said in the release. "But in no way do I condone threats of any kind against Scott Cousins or his family.
"As I said last week, I'm not out to vilify Scott," the statement reads. "I appreciate that he made the effort to reach out to me on the night of the play, but I was in no physical condition to talk to anyone. I have not been back with the team since that night, so I haven't even been aware of any other messages he's left for me. We all need to move on, so it isn't necessary to have a conversation with him at this point."
Giants general manager Brian Sabean had criticized Cousins on his weekly radio show, calling the play malicious and unnecessary. Sabean also said "if I never hear from Cousins again, or he doesn't play another day in the big leagues, I think we'll all be happy."
Sabean's comments got the attention of Major League Baseball, and executive vice president of baseball operations Joe Torre spoke with Sabean on Friday. The Giants also issued a statement saying Sabean's comments were made out of frustration, and the GM was trying to reach Cousins.
"We intend to move beyond conversations about last week's incident and focus our attention on Buster's full recovery and on defending our World Series title," the team said in the statement.
Cousins also issued a statement Friday and apologized again for the collision.
Florida manager Edwin Rodriguez said before Friday's game against the Milwaukee Brewers that he doesn't have to defend his young outfielder because Cousins didn't do anything wrong.
"As a team we don't have anything to say," Rodriguez said. "If people want to keep talking about that, let them talk."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.