Home Safe Home?

After months of speculation Major League Baseball announced a new and somewhat controversial rule to take effect in the 2014 season in a “experimental” version. I am not exactly sure I completely understand what an “experimental” rule is so we will have to see what that means.

Rule 7.13 will take effect on opening day and is designed to protect catchers during collisions at home plate. While most people will point to the horrendous hit that San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey suffered in 2011, that was simply the latest in a long list of brutal hits at the plate.

Arizona Diamondbacks v San Francisco GiantsOn the surface I understand and support the rule. Any time you can make the game safer for its players the better the health of the game will be. I am sure any baseball fan who has been around for a while will remember the brutal hit that Pete Rose put on Cleveland Indians catcher Ray Fosse during the 1970 All-Star game.

Replays of that play show Rose taking out Fosse who had moved up the line to take a throw from Amos Otis. It appeared Rose had a clear lane to the plate but he took out Fosse anyway claiming he was trying to win the game and Fosse was blocking the 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.

– Major League Baseball Rule 7.13

St. Louis Cardinals catcher Mike Matheny has petitioned for changes to the rules after he sustained multiple hits during his career and ultimately retired after multiple concussions. With so many professional athletes in multiple sports suffering from concussions and head injuries Major League Baseball felt they had to act to protect the players.

Not everyone is a fan of the rule change. Some such as Pete Rose feel that collisions are part of playing the game and catchers should understand the dangers of their actions if they choose to block the plate.

I understand the argument but given the overall health of the individuals it is probably pertinent to somehow better protect the players. I support the intent of the rule change but wonder how well it will be able to be managed.

Umpires who already have a tremendous amount to focus on already now will have to determine if the runner is safe or out but whether either the runner improperly collided with the catcher or the catcher did not give the runner a proper lane to reach the plate. This will obviously introduce additional subjectivity to a play at home.

Collisions at the plate will be reviewable by the umpires so expect this to add yet another nuance to the instant-replay discussion that is also to be implemented this season. Just when I think I may have just seen everything at the ballpark, Major League Baseball changes the rules to ensure that we will see a whole new set of interesting plays in a game.

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