THE BLOG
12/19/2013 12:08 pm ET | Updated Feb 18, 2014

Competition Does Not Require Inflicting Damage

Once upon a time I was a baseball catcher... Yes, squatting behind home plate, signaling pitches and occasionally getting hurt badly.

Smart athletes are not catchers. Yogi Berra was a catcher. Smart athletes are place kickers. I see on Google that Yogi received one honorary degree from St. Louis University his hometown. It wasn't Washington University or Columbia.

Catchers wear a lot of protective gear -- some in delicate arenas, others just to cover their face from foul tips. Umpires' bad breath hover around a catcher, and he is invariably dependent on the control -- mental and physical -- of a pitcher. In short, it is a miserable job.

I was injured many times in high school and college, and often in the most stupid of ways. Signaling a "pitch out" -- purportedly an on-purpose wide of the plate pitch so a quick throw could be made by a catcher to nab an attempt at stealing a base -- when the pitcher had little control was a very bad idea. Result, the pitch was on the outside corner, the guy at the plate swung, and I (stepping out of my safe zone behind the plate to quickly snap a throw to second) caught the bat on my left ribs. That hurt. Really.

But then there were the attempts to score from second on a single, and when the relay throw from, let's say the shortstop, arrived at precisely the time when some big country kid was barreling into me. First, he tried to gouge his spikes into any exposed flesh, and second he tried to knock me unconscious and of course dislodge the ball from my glove while shoving me to the ground.

To this day, I have scars from such encounters. Not emotional but physical.

This was not American football with concussions or NHL fisticuffs. This was baseball, the heir to what millions around the world play as cricket. Nine innings, three outs and rarely a fist thrown. OK, steroids in the era of Barry Bonds, but not Stan Musial. Drugs for Yogi were cheap beers.

Moreover, I'm talking high school and college-level sports.

In early 2013, I attended some amateur baseball league games in Virginia, and a few minor league professional games in the region. The game I knew has changed. Sure the rudiments are the same, but the violence has increased. I witnessed deliberate "dust-backs" by pitchers hitting -- or nearly so -- the heads and bodies of batters, so-called "collisions" at home plate with a runner attempting to score by mowing down the catcher, runners trying to stretch a single into a double by plowing into a second baseman with cleats up, and fans tossing trash and bottles towards outfielders unhindered by police.

I am not indicting MLB or fans who attend universally. Rather, I am asking if civility can be preserved at least in one sport aside from curling -- although I've seen some pretty pissed off curlers when their rock deviates from the strategized trajectory.

Let us do some good things for American sporting events. No more wanton violence? No more hitting, crushing, UFC, Roman Colosseo-like human savagery. Competition does not require inflicting damage.