I spent the last few days in the Bay Area, where it was
impossible to avoid conversation about Buster Posey. The nature of that
conversation has something to tell us about what’s wrong with California
politics and government.

For those
of you aren’t baseball fans, Posey is a young catcher and the best hitter on
the San Francisco Giants. They wouldn’t have won last year’s World Series
without him. But what people are talking about now is a ghastly injury Posey
suffered on May 25.

On the
much-discussed play in question, Posey partially blocked the plate as he
received a throw from the outfield. The base runner, Scott Cousins of the
Florida Marlins, could have tried to slide around Posey. But instead he ran him
over – a legal play in baseball. And in this case, an effective one. Posey
dropped the ball. Cousins scored the winning run. And Posey’s leg was caught in
such a way that his leg broke; he also suffered ligament injuries to his ankle.

As soon as
the play was over, the conversation began. Cousins was condemned by some Giants
fans (he’s also received death threats, according to media reports). But the
conversation quickly focused on how to prevent injuries to Posey and other
catchers in the future. In Northern California, every fan and talk radio caller
seems to have a new proposal for a new rule that, the fan is quite sure, would
fix the problem. Don’t let runners run over catchers. Don’t let catchers block
the plate.  And so on and so on. Many of
the proposals for new rules are so complicated that I can’t describe them here.

Which is
precisely the problem. This instinct for regulation in the face of an injury is
very human. And it is a human instinct that runs very deep in Californians.

We have a
tendency, when faced with what we see a problem, to draw up a rule to solve it.
This is the fundamental reason why we have so many regulations – regulations
that add to the complexity of doing anything from opening up a business to
volunteering at a school or park. This instinct also explains our complex
fiscal and governance systems. If we see an unmet social problem, we devise a
funding formula for it. If there’s a tax we don’t like, we come up with a rule
against it. And in many cases, embed such solutions in the constitution or in
initiative law.

It is easy to make mistakes this way. There are so many
regulations and fiscal rules that it’s nearly impossible to know how a new
regulation or rule will interact with the existing maze. The only safe bet is
there will be unintended consequences.

All the
proposed post-Posey injury rules suffer from the same problem. For example, if
runners are forced to slide at home plate, might this result in more overall
injuries, particularly to the legs of runners as they are forced to slide into
or under catchers?  Also, new rules and
regulations don’t respect traditions. Runners and catchers have been crashing
into each other through all of baseball history; it’s one of the most exciting
plays in the game. Is it really worth changing? 

But at
heart, the problem is cultural. We understandably want to protect ourselves
from the conflict – and the literal crashes – involved in any competition. But
we’re not good at weighing the value of the contest – or the costs of limiting
the contest by rules.

We need greater tolerance for
injuries, defeat and risk. Instead of shutting off debate over business or
spending or taxes via a regulation or rule, we should embrace the business and
political clashes. We should recognize that sometimes there are two contenders
for home plate – and sometimes in competition, someone gets hurt. In these
times, to say such a thing is to risk being labeled insensitive. But remember
this: Posey isn’t dead. The catcher will miss the rest of the season. But he
certainly will be back. And when he plays the Marlins, he can take his revenge.