By Annie Moore
This season Major League Baseball has introduced a new rule to try to prevent collisions at home plate and the injuries they cause. In theory the idea of avoiding collisions at the plate is a good one. But this temporary rule has left gaps and grey area that take it from a good idea to a flawed theory.
At first glance it’s a good rule, catchers cannot block home plate without the ball, and runners cannot go out of the baseline to initiate contact with a catcher. But when examined with a fine-toothed comb, this rule doesn’t prevent either of those things.
Let’s address the catcher first. The rule states 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 will be declared safe if the catcher violates this rule. But it goes on to say that, “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.”
This is where we come to the grey area. Replay will be allowed in this instance, which will not only make the games longer, but allow for runs to be decided based on a judgment call on the interpretation of this fuzzy, one-season rule.
Moving on to the runner. Rule 7.13 states that “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 this rule, deviating from the line will be ruled out, even if the catcher drops the ball.
The rules goes on to say “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 catcher is still allowed to block the plate if they are in possession of the ball, and the runner has to collide if there is no direct path to the plate. So basically, if you initiate contact, make sure it’s more of an accidental gesture and say “excuse me” on your way back to the dugout.
And another thing the rule neglects to acknowledge is the safety of the runner in the collision. The runner is wearing no protective gear, whereas the catcher has a full suit of padding. The shoulder is the part of the body that best takes the blow, causing the runner the least injury.
With the new rule against lowering shoulders, what are the runners supposed to do, slide in head first leaving them vulnerable to head and neck injury?
More scenarios will come up for review this season that will point out the serious flaws in this “experimental” rule. However, the bigger point is that it is calling much-needed attention to the subject of dangerous collisions. Hopefully this experiment will do less harm than good, and promote conversation that will lead to a more comprehensive solution.