Normally, if a man wearing a helmet with a sea creature on it was charging into a San Francisco player in full pads, you’d assume the Dolphins were taking on the 49ers.
Not in this case.
May 25, 2011. Deep into the night on the West Coast, where the reigning World Series champion San Francisco Giants were hosting the then-Florida Marlins, the catching position in baseball was changed forever.
Coming off the aforementioned championship win over the Texas Rangers, Giants catcher Buster Posey was riding high. Not only was a title now on his young resume, but it joined another high honor – National League Rookie of the Year. Only the ninth catcher to ever win the award, Posey took the baseball world by storm.
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Maybe “storm” is the wrong word to use.
Marlins outfielder Scott Cousins didn’t start that night, but entered the game as a pinch hitter later on.
He was standing on third with one out in a tied ball game. Marlins utility player Emilio Bonifacio sent a fly ball to right field, where Giants outfielder Nate Schierholtz made the catch and fired home. The throw came in as Cousins headed towards home play, which was, of course, guarded by Posey.
Images of similar plays at the plate come to mind. Ray Fosse being run over by Pete Rose at the 1970 All Star Game. Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez taking a charge from, ironically enough, Giants first baseman J.T. Snow to end the 2003 National League Championship Series.
Cousins did run into Posey, resulting in arguably the most memorable home plate collision of all time, for all the wrong reasons.
As the ball came in, Posey was placed right in front of the plate, ready to receive the throw. Cousins came racing in and had a path to slide into the back of the plate, but instead opted to smash into Posey.
The crash happened, and Cousins was ruled safe on an RBI sacrifice fly. The Marlins won 7-6. The Giants lost the game, and simultaneously lost Buster Posey for the season.
“It starts when you’re little. People tell you to enjoy what you’re doing,” Posey remarked during an episode of “The Franchise: A Season with the San Francisco Giants” on Showtime. “Enjoy, you know, it can be gone in a second. I think this is a prime example.”
Posey suffered a fractured fibula and torn ligaments in his ankle. Cousins was not disciplined for the play, and even defended his decision to collide rather than slide.
“I do believe…that the play was clean and totally within the rules of the game,” Cousins said, according to ESPN. “Explaining over and over that I would never intentionally hurt another player for any reason won’t change the minds of those who doubt my sincerity or intent.”
Regardless of Cousins’ intentions, baseball had to act.
Almost three years later, on February 24, 2014, MLB instituted a new series of rules regarding home plate collisions, mainly to protect the catcher.
Rule 6.01 (i) states: “A runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher, or otherwise initiate an avoidable collision. If, in the judgment of the umpire, a runner attempting to score initiates contact with the catcher in such a manner, the umpire shall declare the runner out (regardless of whether the catcher maintains possession of the ball). In such circumstances, the umpire shall call the ball dead, and all other base runners shall return to the last base touched at the time of the collision.”
Another part of the rule states the catcher can not block home plate without possession of the ball. All in all, home plate collisions as they had been known were changed forever.
As for Posey himself, he was never viewed as any less of a hard-nosed player. Stories of his playing all nine positions in a game while at Florida State University showed the gamesmanship and hard-work mentality that landed Posey in the big leagues, after being drafted fifth overall in the 2008 MLB Draft. That would not change because of this devastating injury.
Posey missed the remainder of the 2011 season, which saw the Giants finish eight games back of first place and subsequently miss the playoffs.
But, Posey came back with a vengeance in 2012.
Posey finished that season with a .336 batting average, 24 home runs, and 103 RBI. Those numbers are career highs in all three categories to this day.
Would you believe me if I told you he also took home National League Most Valuable Player honors that year? Because he did.
Would you believe me if I told you he led the Giants back to the playoffs, and to another World Series Championship? Because he did.
Often in life, you hear the phrase, “You get knocked down, but you get right back up again.” Posey did that, in monumental fashion.
Now, 10 years later, Posey is again rising to the top. He sat with a .355 batting average and nine homers as of the 10th anniversary of the devastating hit.
Similar to 2012, Posey is coming off a season where he didn’t play, this time opting out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But if history has taught us anything, look out for Buster Posey in 2021, as he is the one bowling over the competition.
Follow Allen Austin on Twitter @Allen_Austin_