The MLB has addressed the issue of player safety going into the 2014 season by introducing a rule concerning collisions at home plate. The new rule, announced Tuesday morning, will help reduce player injuries and concussions. Both Major League Baseball and the Players Association agreed to terms on the rule for what both sides are calling a one-year experiment.
The new rule, 7.13, states “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).” A runner violating the rule shall be declared out, even if the fielder drops the ball. The rule also allows contact if the catcher goes into the base path to field a play at the plate.
In addition to the new rule, both the baseball and players union agreed on two new comments umpires can use in order justify their ruling. The first comment states, “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.” The comment acknowledges that players who slide appropriately are not in violation of the rule.
The second comment says that “unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score.” The runner shall be declared safe if the catcher violates that provision. In addition, it is not a violation “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.”
It has also been agreed upon that umpires may utilize the new video-review system in order to determine whether or not the collision was justifiable.
“We believe the new experimental rule allows for the play at the plate to retain its place as one of the most exciting plays in the game while providing an increased level of protection to both the runner and the catcher,” new union head Tony Clark said. “We will monitor the rule closely this season before discussing with the commissioner’s office whether the rule should become permanent.”
The debate over home plate collisions has long been a topic requiring more discussion, but the debate intensified in May 2011 after a collision at the plate ended the season of San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey. The National League Rookie of the Year in 2010 suffered a fractured fibula and torn ligaments in his ankle after a collision at the plate with Florida Marlins outfielder Scott Cousins.
Prior to the injury Posey was batting .284 with 46 hits, 17 scored runs, and 21 RBI. The throw to the plate from center fielder Nate Schierholtz was spot on Posey’s glove, but the catcher could not maintain control of the ball and subsequently turned into the collision from Cousins. When asked about the play at the plate Cousins said that he hit Posey intentionally in order to score.
“If you hit them, you punish them and you punish yourself, but you have a chance of that ball coming out.” He expressed regret over injuring Posey, saying “I certainly didn’t want him to get hurt.”
Posey would come back strong in 2012 by being named to his first All-Star team, Comeback Player of the Year, National League batting Champ, winning a Silver Slugger Award, National League MVP, and a second World Series Championship in three years.
“Just reading through it, the main thing it does is eliminate the malicious collision,” Posey told ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” on Tuesday morning. “If the catcher is not set up right on top of the plate, it doesn’t allow the runner to run through him.”
The new rule has been supported by the majority of players and coaches, but there are still some opposed to the rule including Kansas City Royals vice president and Hall of Famer George Brett as well as current Boston Red Sox catcher A.J Pieznyski. The 15-year veteran, who is no stranger to home plate collisions or home plate controversy, expressed his disapproval of the new rule to USA TODAY Sports over the weekend.
“I understand why they’re doing it, but next, they’re going to tell us that you can’t slide into the guy at second base. It’s one of those things, as a big-league catcher, I signed up for it. You never want to see guys get hurt, and you never want to see guys go down because of it, but it’s part of the game you signed up for.
“There are going to be plays at the plate, late in games, where you need to block the plate and try to keep that guy from scoring, saving save a run that ultimately gets your team into the playoffs. And not given that opportunity is unfair. I understand why the rule is made, but I wish there was a better way to go about it.”
The rule will ultimately make baseball a better sport. With the increased awareness of concussions in professional sports, especially those found in football, baseball needed to show that they are taking responsibility for the safety of their players. The new rule may help to reduce season-ending injuries, but it will by no means reduce the controversy over plays at home plate. If anything, there will be more debates between managers and umpires on whether a player was justifiable in his actions at the plate.
It will take one major collision to occur before we can really see how the rule will be enforced, but it will also take a lot more opposition to the rule before baseball would repeal this new safety precaution.
This is baseballs latest effort in protecting the well-being of their players. Earlier this off-season, the MLB and IsoBlox introduced a new hat for pitchers that provides extra padding in the situation a player is struck in the head from a line drive.