Tuesday, February 25, 2014

MLB: Home-plate collision rule is here to stay

Buster Posey: Photo courtesy of scomedy
via Flickr
Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association jointly announced Monday the approval of a new rule in reference to collision plays at home plate. The rule, which has multiple layers, is in "experimental" mode for 2014 to allow for modifications. After reviewing the rule, I believe it is solidly written and could stand without major tweaks. At the least, the rule is here to stay in some fashion.

The MLB Rules Committee had sent the MLBPA a set of rules which prohibited any contact with catchers at home plate by baserunners (and vice versa really). The MLBPA refused to agree to such stringent terms, and thus eliminated plays in which the catcher has the ball in his possession and is blocking the runner from being able to slide into home plate, or when the catcher is forced into the base path to make a play on the ball.

The rules which players must abide to are set forth here via MLB.com:


OFFICIAL BASEBALL RULE 7.13
Collisions at home plate
A runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate). If, in the judgment of the umpire, a runner attempting to score initiates contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate) in such a manner, the umpire shall declare the runner out (even if the player covering home plate loses possession of the ball). In such circumstances, the umpire shall call the ball dead, and all other baserunners shall return to the last base touched at the time of the collision.
Rule 7.13 comment: The failure by the runner to make an effort to touch the plate, the runner's lowering of the shoulder, or the runner's pushing through with his hands, elbows or arms, would support a determination that the runner deviated from the pathway in order to initiate contact with the catcher in violation of Rule 7.13. If the runner slides into the plate in an appropriate manner, he shall not be adjudged to have violated Rule 7.13. A slide shall be deemed appropriate, in the case of a feet first slide, if the runner's buttocks and legs should hit the ground before contact with the catcher. In the case of a head first slide, a runner shall be deemed to have slid appropriately if his body should hit the ground before contact with the catcher.
Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the umpire, the catcher without possession of the ball blocks the pathway of the runner, the umpire shall call or signal the runner safe. Notwithstanding the above, it shall not be considered a violation of this Rule 7.13 if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in order to field a throw, and the umpire determines that the catcher could not have fielded the ball without blocking the pathway of the runner and that contact with the runner was unavoidable.

Teams have been provided materials for training and clubs will be working with their players during spring training to practice playing with the new rules in place.

The intent is to do away with the sometimes vicious attempts to throttle the catcher when he is not in possession of the ball or when there is obvious room for the runner to reach the plate without contacting the catcher.

The rules have been years in the making as catchers have been taking some brutal hits, causing significant career-threatening injuries, along with the increased awareness of concussions and their affects on everyday life after sports. San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey’s injury from a home-plate collision in 2011 (see at left) is considered the beginning of the push for protecting catchers. Many other catchers have suffered injury from collisions at the plate, some of which could have been avoided.

Obviously sentiments are varied between current/former players, catchers/non-catchers and fans. Some are concerned an exciting part of the game is being removed and others who feel that eliminating this aspect has no bearing on game results.

There is no doubt that if I was a catcher, I would want to be protected by the blunt force of a baserunner coming at me full speed. But, I do agree with baserunners who suggest that if the catcher is blocking the entire plate without the ball, he’s not in the right position and fair game.

I also agree with the MLBPA stance that the must-slide/no-block regulation was one which would have gotten sticky. There will be plenty of issues with the new rule as it’s currently constructed, let alone trying to get players to completely change their many years of playing in such a manner. These are bang-bang plays, which the umpire will be able to utilize the new video replay system to pass judgment on any collision plays that do occur.

The plays will not stop all at once, but players can be trained on what is allowed and what is not so that over time collisions at the plate become infrequent. In fact, after this year’s testing phase, I expect both sides will agree to keep the must-slide/no-block rule out of the picture. By simply disallowing baserunners to make forceful contact with the unprotected catcher, removing often malicious intents, and eliminating the habit of blocking the plate without the ball should be enough of a restriction.

What do you think? Does the rule take away an important part of the game, or is the protection of players more vital? Let me know in the comments.

Christopher Carelliis a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo. Connect with Chris on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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