With exhibition games on the horizon in both Florida and Arizona in the coming days, Major League Baseball has finally announced its modified home-plate collision rule.
The change has been talked about for much of the off-season, but had yet to be put into place. With Spring Training games beginning, some managers, including the Detroit Tigers’ Brad Ausmus, were wondering what, if any, changes would be made.
They received their answer today.
The changes would prohibit the “most egregious” collisions at home plate. According to MLB.com:
• 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.
• Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of a 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.
The umpire will need to judge if a runner deviated from his path to specifically cause a collision. “Blue” will also decide if the runner was attempting to touch the plate or if he positioned himself specifically for a collision and aimed for the catcher.
The rule that will be in effect in 2014 does not mandate that the runner always slide or that the catcher can never block the plate. However, runners who slide, and catchers who provide the runner with a lane to reach the plate, will never be found to be in violation of the new rule.
Umpires will be receiving a crash course in this, as well as teams will be required to work with players to slide and the catchers to provide a pathway for the runner. The rule is experimental and could see changes after the season. The play will also be reviewable, with the discretion for the instant replay coming from the umpire crew chief.
Like any new rule, it will offer a learning curve for everyone involved in the game, including fans, players, managers, and umpires. So there’s bound to be some bumps in the road.
I was in favor of getting rid of catcher collisions, but knew it would be tricky addressing it–meaning would the runner be an automatic out if the ball beats him home, can the catcher no longer block the plate, etc. etc. It seems the powers that be in MLB also had these questions which is why it took them so long to write the rule and create its murky and subjective language.
Only time will tell, but we all know baseball is not a contact sport and true fans of the sport won’t even notice that this play (which happens so sparingly) has been phased out of the game.