MLB Adopts 'Experimental' Rule On Home Plate Collisions

Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

They're going to give this a try, anyway.

There has been much talk in major-league baseball over the last couple of years about doing something regarding home-plate collisions. Some of these violent collisions have resulted in concussions and other serious injuries.

Monday, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association jointly announced that the following new rule, MLB Rule 7.13, would be implemented for 2014:

(1)  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). If, in the judgment of the Umpire, a runner attempting to score initiates contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate) in such a manner, the Umpire shall declare the runner out (even if the player covering home plate loses possession of the ball). In such circumstances, the Umpire shall call the ball dead, and all other base runners shall return to the last base touched at the time of the collision.

Rule 7.13 Comment: 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 of Rule 7.13. If the runner slides into the plate in an appropriate manner, he shall not be adjudged to have violated Rule 7.13. A slide shall be deemed appropriate, in the case of a feet first slide, if the runner’s buttocks and legs should hit the ground before contact with the catcher.  In the case of a head first slide, a runner shall be deemed to have slid appropriately if his body should hit the ground before contact with the catcher.

(2)  Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the Umpire, the catcher without possession of the ball blocks the pathway of the runner, the Umpire shall call or signal the runner safe. Notwithstanding the above, it shall not be considered a violation of this Rule 7.13 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.

How will this be implemented and enforced? MLB added this explanation in a press release:

In determining whether a runner deviated from his pathway in order to initiate a collision, the Umpire will consider whether the runner made an effort to touch the plate, and whether he lowered his shoulders or pushed through with his hands, elbows or arms when veering toward the catcher. The rule that will be in effect in 2014 does not mandate that the runner always slide or that the catcher can never block the plate. However, runners who slide, and catchers who provide the runner with a lane to reach the plate, will never be found to be in violation of the new rule. Beginning immediately, Clubs will be required to train their runners to slide and their catchers to provide the runner with a pathway to reach the plate at all levels in their organizations.

So it's going to be a judgment call -- and you know what often happens with those. MLB is planning on having meetings with managers during spring training to discuss this rule, and will provide "training materials" for "retraining" of catchers and baserunners, so they can avoid these sorts of collisions. This rule, as the headline notes, is "experimental" and MLB and the MLBPA are going to review this rule during and following the season to see if it needs changing for 2015.

Oh, and one more thing, from the press release:

Finally, instant replay will be available to review potential violations of Rule 7.13. The Umpire Crew Chief will have discretion to invoke instant replay in order to determine whether Rule 7.13 was violated.

So -- it doesn't seem as if that part of replay review will be part of the manager "challenge" system (which ought to be scrapped, but that's another article).

I'm sure you have some thoughts on all this. Have at it -- but without running into each other.

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