Ferguson: Memorable Jays plays involving catchers

Scott Ferguson
3/1/2013 11:55:36 AM
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My favourite post-game quote from a Blue Jays player came from Carlos Delgado. He was talking about a great take-out slide he made at second base to break up a potential double play. It was an "old school" hard-nosed baseball play. When asked about it, Carlos said "it's not ballet, it's baseball."
I thought about that quote when former Blue Jays catcher and now Cardinals manager Mike Matheny suggested earlier this week that home plate collisions should be banned from baseball. Mike had his playing career ended prematurely by concussions, so I can see where he is coming from. If it is a play where the runner is out by 10 feet, I agree with him completely. However, if it's a "bang-bang" play, I don't see how a collision can be avoided, at least not if a catcher is trying to block the plate.
To outlaw home plate collisions, you would have to ban catchers blocking the plate. You have to mandate them to play off the plate and make the sweep or diving tag. I don't see that being made a rule. It would have to be individual choice or team philosophy.
All of this talk brought me back to arguably the most incredible defensive play in Blue Jays history and yes it involved a catcher. The play happened in Seattle on July 9 of 1985. With Tom Filer on the mound, the M's got a hit to right and Phil Bradley tried to score from second base. Jesse Barfield threw a strike to Buck Martinez, Bradley braced himself and slammed right into Buck, who went crashing to the turf and suffered a dislocated ankle and a fractured leg. But the play wasn't over. Buck saw his old friend and Milwaukee teammate Gorman Thomas trying to scamper to third. Throwing from the seat of his pants, Buck sailed the ball into left field. Thomas rounded third and tried to make it home. In the meantime, George Bell scooped up the ball in left and fired it home on a bounce. With Buck still sitting on the ground, he caught the ball and applied the tag.
Seeing that Martinez was injured, Thomas didn't slide into his friend. He tried to step around him and was tagged out to complete the double play. The old  9-2-7-2 double play. I've never seen anything like it before and likely never will again. The injury ended the season for Martinez, and in all likelihood hastened his move into the braodcast booth where he's enjoyed a stellar career.
Oddly enough, the other really serious injury to a Blue Jays catcher also occurred in Seattle. On May 1st of 1999, Darrin Fletcher was standing right up close to the batting cage. A foul tip deflected off a bar on the cage, hit the mesh and then Fletcher's face which was near the screen. Fletcher suffered a broken bone in his right eye socket and had to remain in Seattle for a while. For the nearly the entire month of May, his vision was so blurry, he felt it was going to be a permanent disability and he would never play again.
Finally, Fletcher's vision returned to the point where he was cleared to play. On June 2 at what was then Skydome, Fletcher had one of the most dramatic and emotional returns that one could have ever imagined. On his very first swing, he homered off Brian Snyder. Then he slugged another one, a go-ahead two-run shot off Brian Ward as the Jays went on to beat the White Sox, 9-7. There was hardly a dry eye in the place.
What did Fletcher do for an encore? On June 30, he slugged a three-run walk-off homer off Jesse Orosco in the 10th inning to give the Jays a 10-9 victory over Baltimore.
For me, these are two of the most incredible stories in Blue Jays history.

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