Major League Baseball and the players association agreed to implement a provisional rule that would limit home plate collisions.
It can’t be called a home plate collision ban, thanks to a compromised made by both sides.
MLB wanted to make the rule simple: Runners would be required to slide into home plate; catchers would not be allowed to impede the runner in any way.
But the players association contended that years of conditioning of big-league catchers could not be undone in one spring training (which MoreSplashHits believes is silly, but OK).
So MLB added the following provision to the rule:
“The catcher, without the ball in his possession, has no right to block the pathway of the runner attempting to score. The base line belongs to the runner and the catcher should be there only when he is fielding a ball or when he already has the ball in his hand.”
This provision would seem to indicate that catchers can still block the plate if they have the ball in hand. This has led some players to deduce that a rule intended on protecting the catcher is now putting the runner in danger.
And they have a point. Also, it created some gray area that is confusing to some.
“Yesterday, we were thoroughly confused, trying to figure out ways to do it,” the Brewers’ Jonathan Lucroy said. “There were so many issues as far as, ‘Will this be legal? Would that be legal?'”
Now if catchers are spending this spring trying to figure ways that they can still be allowed to block the plate, then there will be issues.
But if teams spend this spring instructing their catchers to position themselves in a way that will avoid most contact, then there will be few issues.
That’s what Giants fans have learned over the past couple of years.
Ever since Buster Posey had his 2011 season ended by a collision with the Marlins’ Scott Cousins — and even before that, Posey says — Giants catchers have been taught to position themselves to receive the ball out in front of home plate (i.e. between home plate and the mound). Then catch the ball and turn to tag out the runner with a sweep tag.
This technique is nothing new. Carlton Fisk decided early in his career that he would rather have a long and prosperous career than turn himself into a human baracade at the plate. So he used the sweep tag, which allowed him to make the Hall of Fame.
So Giants fans haven’t seen many home plate collisions in the past few years. And they haven’t missed them.
As someone who has covered high school baseball for a quarter century — home plate collisions are not allowed in prep baseball, or the college game for that matter — I can tell you that you don’t really miss them.
What you will notice is that any runner to can get to the plate before the ball arrives will be safe. Those that don’t will be out.
Just like every other base.
Will there still be collisions from time to time? Sure. Just like there are when pitchers and runners sometimes collide when a pitcher is covering first. Or when a wide throw carries first basemen into the path of oncoming runners.
But these plays will be left to the judgment of umpires to decide if the contact was incidental or intentional, and rule accordingly.
MoreSplashHits believes after the 2014 season, this experimental rule will become permanent, with the potential elimination of the aformentioned provision which allows catchers to block the plate if they have the ball.
And there will still be exciting plays at the plate, like this one from the 2012 World Series.