I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the new Home Plate Collision Rule which Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Player’s Association (MLBPA) recently adopted.

While I love that this issue is finally being addressed by the sport in any context, I find the parameters of the new rule to be confusing and frankly, I don’t understand why an outright ban isn’t being put in place.

(See my November 27, 2012 article “Violence in MLB; Suggested Rule Changes” which outlines my passion for this controversial issue.)

First, the new Home Plate Collision Rule (referred to as 7.13) is being considered “experimental” by MLB and applies only to the upcoming season.

Second, it only places a limit on those “most egregious” home plate collisions, but it doesn’t ban them outright.

Specifically, 7.13 states that catchers can still block the plate, but they must have the ball in hand before the runner arrives.  In the case of a violation, the runner would be considered safe.  Catchers are also encouraged to leave a lane for runners to reach the plate, but it’s not mandatory.

The new rule also prohibits runners from deliberately initiating contact with catchers in order to score at home.  If in the judgment of the umpire the runner violated this rule, he will be considered out.  Runners can also run into the catcher, but they are discouraged from making any contact using their upper bodies (shoulders, arms, hands).  Instead, runners are encouraged to slide if they can, but it’s not mandatory.

So, it seems that catchers will now have all the power at their kingdom of home plate. They can stand there and wait for the runner to arrive with the ball in hand.

But, base runners have fewer options when they get there.  Either slide, or uh, what?

Try to and go in standing up with your arms pinned down next to your body?

Attempt a fancy “Naked Gun”-like diversion tactic to get to home without the catcher seeing?

Or, hope the catcher will move away from the base path so they can easily score?

Realistically, none of these options will likely happen.

If a base runner doesn’t slide into home plate, he’ll have to get creative.  And, therein is the problem.

It’s a very dangerous prospect to let the base runner decide how to score with limited options.

In the heat of the moment, when adrenaline is pumping and in a game with high stakes, creative base runners will likely risk life and limb to get that score on the board for their team.  This is especially dicey, now that players are bigger, stronger, and fitter than ever before and wear little or no padding.

Also, what if a base runner prefers to slide instead of risk injury?  Will he be considered weak or chicken by his fellow players?

No, this isn’t a good solution.  Actually, it’s a horrible one.

The new rule surely protects the catcher, but just makes the situation more dangerous for the runner who has the onus squarely on them.  It’s weird, confusing, and reckless.

I can only imagine that MLB and the union came up with this idea because they desired to limit the big hit, but wanted to keep the home plate play alive on some level.

Well, it’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul.  Catchers may be protected, but base runners are going to get hurt under this new rule.

So, why didn’t MLB and the union just institute a permanent ban on catchers from blocking home plate and call it a day?

Well, it seems that dirty little word was being thrown around by both sides again: tradition.

There seems to be trepidation around the league that modifying the traditions of baseball in this way could set a dangerous precedent. Namely, what’s next?  A ban on dangerous slides into second base?

To me, if it protects players, it may just be something we have to accept.  Tradition should take a back seat to safety.

Also, it seems that both sides are nervous about baseball losing one of the most exciting plays in the game which some players and viewers still enjoy.

True, the idea of defending home plate is one of the most exciting tensions in baseball.  It’s where magic happens.  It’s what games sometimes build up to.

And, if we take away the excitement and drama of that play, it will change the game forever.  But, again, at what cost?  Players’ safety?

As a viewer, I’m willing to forego it.

Which gives me an idea.

Perhaps we should put this issue to public vote.

Do we want to risk players’ safety?

Or, keep a play around in the sport because it’s traditional and exciting, yet risky?

I’ll leave the answer up to your imagination.


Source : MLB Press Release - Home Plate Collisions (02-24-14)

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