During last offseason, Major League Baseball wanted to implement a rule that would prevent home-plate collisions. The rule would be simple and straightforward.
The catcher is not allowed to block the plate. The runner is not allowed to blow up the catcher. The only time home-plate collisions would happen was when the flight of the ball drew the catcher into the runner’s path, making any collision accidental and unavoidable.
But that wasn’t good enough for old-school catchers and managers. They said “How can we teach our catchers how not to block the plate in just six weeks of spring training when that’s how they’ve been playing the position forever (forever meaning in their pro careers, because blocking the plate was not part of the game they played in Little League, high school or college)?”
So MLB waffled a bit, adding a line into the new rule that catchers could still block the plate, if they had possession of the ball. And a can of worms was opened.
Given that sliver of light, old-school managers did not worry about teaching their catchers about where best to position themselves to be in compliance with the new rule. They simply told their catchers to play the position as they have always played it, and make MLB rule that they were doing it incorrectly.
In the first half of the season, MLB gave catchers the benefit of the doubt. The onus was on the runner to avoid contact. Catchers kept blocking the plate like they always had.
But then runners started to complain. Was there a new rule or wasn’t there one? And MLB started to listen. So after the All-Star break, we started to see a swing in how these plays were being ruled on replay.
If the catcher was in the runners path without the ball and didn’t give the runner a path to the plate, the runner would be ruled safe. It didn’t matter how far ahead of the runner that the ball arrived to the plate.
In short, if teams weren’t going to get their catchers to position themselves correctly in compliance with the new rule, MLB was going to do it for them.
And if you’re on the wrong end of one of these calls, you don’t like it. Just like White Sox manager Robin Ventura found himself in when umpires overturned a call in which the Giants’ Gregor Blanco was thrown out at the plate in the seventh inning on Tuesday.
The play resulted in a 1-1 tie, and the Giants went on to score six more times in the inning en route to a 7-1 win. And Ventura was livid.
“You look at the spirit of the rule of what they’re trying to do and what it’s actually doing, and it’s a joke,” said Ventura, who was ejected for arguing and kicking dirt on the plate after a review that lasted nearly five minutes. “We obviously disagreed with it, and we got hosed today.”
Ventura continued: “They don’t take into consideration that the guy was out by a longshot.”
Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! At what point did Ventura start to disagree with this rule. If you rewind back to Tuesday night’s game, Ventura found himself on the opposite end of a similar play.
In the 10th inning, Chicago’s Jordan Danks were ruled out at the plate on a tag by Buster Posey. Ventura came out to have the play to review to see if Posey blocked Danks’ path to the plate, even though Danks was out by a longshot.
One problem, however. The review showed that Posey didn’t block the plate, that he did leave Danks a pathway to the plate.
And why is this? Well, it’s because that’s how the Giants have taught their catchers to position themselves on plays on the plate. They instruct their catchers to get out IN FRONT OF home plate, between home plate and the pitchers mound, field the throw, then apply a sweep tag. That’s what Posey did.
Now fast-forward to Wednesday afternoon. White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers did not get out in front of home plate. He stood right over it. And when he went to field the throw from first baseman Jose Abreu, Flowers left leg clearly blocked off the entire plate from the oncoming Blanco. Flowers even admitted this much, but said that’s not the point.
Except it IS the point.
Some have said the Giants won Wednesday on a “technicality” including CSN Bay Area’s Andrew Baggarly, who called the ruling “lasso-sized legal loophole.”
This is what Flowers said: “I don’t think anybody has an understanding of this rule,. That’s not the purpose of this rule. The purpose of this rule is to prevent a situation like Posey had. It’s not when a guy is out by 30 feet. ‘Oh, he blocked the plate?’ That had no impact on him being safe or out. And there’s no clarification on that.”
There. Flowers just proved my point, even if he didn’t intend to, when he said “this rule is to prevent a situation like Posey had. It’s not when a guy is out by 30 feet.”
Flowers was referring to the Scott Cousins play — I call it the Cousins play because the responsibility for that collision was completely on Cousins — that prematurely Posey’s season in May 2011.
Here are three irrefutable points about the Cousins/Posey play.
- Posey was NOT blocking the plate on that play.
- Posey DID leave Cousins a lane to the plate.
- Cousins did believe he would be out by 30 feet. He felt that from where right fielder Nate Schierholtz was throwing the ball, Cousins would be out easily. His only recourse was to try to dislodge the ball from Posey. As it turned out, Posey got caught with a short hop that he didn’t handle cleanly.
And that’s the point of the new rule. MLB wants catchers to leave runners a lane, so they don’t feel like their only course of action is collide with the catcher. And leaving a lane is all determined by where the catcher sets up to receive the throw.
So here’s another question for Flowers. If Blanco was going to be out by a longshot, why was Flowers even blocking the plate in the first place?
“I had two seconds to get from behind home plate to catch (and) make a tag, and I’m supposed to be able to make sure I don’t block the plate, catch the ball and make the tag, all within two seconds on an infield dribbler?” Flowers said. “That’s not realistic. That play doesn’t make any sense.”
But it is realistic, if it’s a play that you have been trained on doing correctly. Buster Posey had time to do it correctly Tuesday night because he’s been trained to do that. Flowers, likely because the White Sox have not made it a priority, appeared as if he hasn’t been trained on this.
So MLB gave him, and the White Sox, a valuable lesson. And they got what they deserved.
And that’s not a technicality.