2/24/2014 9:32 P.M. ET
Mixed reaction from players, managers to collision rule
By Joey Nowak / MLB.com
Major League Baseball's official announcement on Monday to implement a ban on home-plate collisions for the 2014 season was met with mixed reaction from players and managers.
"There is nothing more sacred in the game than home plate, and baserunners want to do all they can to score a run while catchers want to do their best to defend the plate -- in many cases at all costs," Tony Clark, executive director of the MLB Players Association, said in a statement. "Therefore, as one might imagine, the issue of home-plate collisions is one that generates spirited debate among the players. Because of this, coming up with a rule change that allows both the runner and catcher a fair and equal opportunity to score and defend was our mandate."
Rule 7.13 will go into effect on an experimental basis this season and will "prohibit the most egregious collisions at home plate."
If the umpire determines that a runner has initiated contact with the player covering home plate and/or deviated from his direct pathway to do so, the umpire will declare the runner out. If the catcher blocks the runner's pathway without holding the ball, the umpire will call the runner safe.
"The big thing we are trying to eliminate, and I wholeheartedly support it, is the cheap-shot collision," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. "[A] guy, completely exposed, doesn't have the ball, and some guy hunts him. We've had it happen with Matt [Wieters] a few times; if you remember, we were real unhappy about it."
The Giants and their fans were unhappy when their star catcher, Buster Posey, broke a bone in his left leg after being run over at the plate by then-Marlins player Scott Cousins on May 25, 2011, and the issue was examined with more fervor as a result of such a high-profile collision.
Posey was asked recently if he thought the new bylaw would be known as the "Posey Rule," and he wasn't too verbose in his response. "I try to keep myself out of the conversation as much as I can," Posey said. "Because I know people are going to connect me to it regardless."
To make their determination, umpires will consider whether runners have made an effort to touch the plate, and whether they lower their shoulders or push through their elbows, hands or arms. The rule does not mandate that a player slide or that the catcher cannot block the plate, but runners who slide and catchers who allow a lane to the plate will never be found in violation.
"The biggest thing is, if you have a place to slide, you really need to slide," Yankees manager -- and former catcher -- Joe Girardi said. "We don't want any of these unnecessary collisions, because we want our players on the field, and we don't want the health issues to come back and haunt players 10, 20, 30 years from now. We just don't. ... I think it's a good rule, and I think it's a really good step in the right direction."
Indians catcher Yan Gomes agreed, emphasizing how much of a target the catcher is on close plays at the plate.
"We're at a standstill position, and no matter how big or how small anybody is, the guy that's coming in is going to win the battle," Gomes said. "So I'm glad that at least that is gone. Kind of like a play coming in from right field, I don't have my eyes on the runner, so if I'm in front of home plate, they're not coming out and letting me have it."
Such a play would have had a profound impact on the Pirates in 2013, as their postseason berth was clinched on Sept. 23 with a home-plate collision. Catcher Russell Martin blocked the plate against the Cubs' Nate Schierholtz, and held the ball after the collision. Schierholtz was called out.
"Good timing, I guess," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of the new rule. "But you know what, the 'lane' thing has always been in the rules, [it] just wasn't enforced."
A Note addendum to Rule 7.06(b) in the current Official Baseball Rules states: "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."
Instant replay will be available to review potential violations, with the crew chief given the discretion to invoke replay if such a situation arises.
"The goal is to have runners approaching home think 'slide' first," Martin said. "I'm sure some super-aggressive players have the mindset, 'I'm destroying this guy.' That's what they want to take away."
Brewers catchers Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado began preparing for the rule change on Sunday, working with catching coordinator Charlie Greene, bench coach Jerry Narron and Triple-A manager Rick Sweet on swipe tags.
"I'm a conservative-type guy. I like keeping things the way they are," Lucroy said, "although I do understand where they're coming from. I understand the owners who voted on it want to maintain their investments, and catchers are investments. So are the players who hit catchers. I understand the importance of [avoiding] concussions. I get it. It's just really hard to break old habits. Yesterday, we were thoroughly confused, trying to figure out ways to do it. There were so many issues as far as, 'Will this be legal? Would that be legal?'"
Rays manager Joe Maddon is also hesitant to embrace the change. He noted that the rule protects the catcher but, in doing so, can put the runner at risk. He's also concerned that some players may not have a clear interpretation of what's legal and what's not.
"I still think there's some ambiguities about it that I think we need to learn better," Maddon said. "I think the in-season game is going to teach us more. I think with all these new rules, whether it's instant replay or the positioning of the catcher, I think it's got to be a very fluid, almost living kind of organism when it comes to rule changing.
"So [there needs to be] a lot of flexibility -- not tabling, not revisiting -- [but] addressing almost immediately when you know something about this isn't right. [Like] obviously, something about this isn't right. Boom! We've got to do something right now. Which is going to play havoc with players' heads, I think. And that's the part I really don't like."
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, also a former Major League catcher, said he feels the catcher is the one who will have to adjust more to the new rule but that it shouldn't be a major adjustment.
"They're so used to guarding that plate there," Gibbons said. "In a lot of ways, I really don't know if it's going to be a big difference. A lot of catchers don't hold their ground at the plate anymore anyway. A lot of them leak out and use the swipe tag to begin with. It will be a small adjustment. I don't think it will be that big a deal."
Said Clark: "It's in large part what has been part of the challenge, making sure that something can be put together that guys can appreciate, understand, interpret and apply while also taking into account and respecting the fact that the game, for a lot of these guys, has been played one way with one mindset and one focal point. That doesn't change overnight. A lot of that comes into play with the rule itself is perhaps looking to change some habits. That's going to take time."
Many around the game appreciate that the rule is designed to help curb concussions. Cardinals manager and former catcher Mike Matheny went so far as to say that he hopes "the league comes down hard" on any player who "does go out of his way" to initiate a collision at the plate.
"I'm not on a mission here to try to do anything except do what's right," Matheny said. "First of all, make people aware that the concussion thing is real and not just in football and hockey. It's real in baseball. ... And the other thing is, let's take a risk-reward analysis of this thing. What is the risk of the good of the game, let alone the individual, and the long-term repercussions? And what's the reward?
Two-time All-Star catcher and former FOX broadcaster Tim McCarver would like to see the rule go even further.
"It's a step forward, but I think it's an incomplete rule, because it doesn't protect the catcher above the shoulders," McCarver said. "That is what needs to be addressed, to protect the catcher so he doesn't get his head [injured]. Like a lot of rules, you're going to have to see how it's enforced. But the key thing for me is that it prevents concussion."
Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis took part in the conversations with the union about the rule change, and he believes it's more about orthopedic injuries than concussions. He also fears that the change will take away game-changing or game-saving plays that affect a contest's outcome. His backup, Tim Federowicz, is also skeptical.
"I don't agree with it, but I guess we have to live with it," Federowicz said. "I didn't think it was going to pass. Guess I've got to learn a new technique tagging guys out. But when the ball takes you into the path of the runner, our priority is to catch the ball. There will be a lot more ejections and arguments."
MLB and the Players Association will form a committee of players and managers to review the rule as the season goes on and discuss permanent application starting in 2015.
"We believe the new experimental rule allows for the play at the plate to retain its place as one of the most exciting plays in the game, while providing an increased level of protection to both the runner and the catcher," Clark said in his statement. "We will monitor the rule closely this season before discussing with the Commissioner's Office whether the rule should become permanent.
"During these negotiations, one thing became very apparent. Serious discussions over potential rules changes must include the input and feedback from those with the best vantage point -- the players. With that in mind, I would like to thank those players involved in helping us navigate through this process."
Some catchers expressed general feelings of acceptance with the wording of the rule. Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco, for example, said he had heard that any type of contact at the plate would be disallowed, so he's in favor of what has been passed.
"I think it makes a lot of sense," Mesoraco said. "It takes away those unnecessary collisions. It's a play that's a lot of fun. I think nothing really gets a team going a whole lot more than a play at the plate. I didn't want them to take away any contact at all."
Added Royals catcher Ramon Hernandez, a 15-year big league veteran: "I wish when I was coming up, this rule was coming in because I'd have had fewer injuries. For years, that's what people always loved to see -- the catcher getting run over. But I think, in a good way, it's going to save a lot of injuries, especially to catchers. You see a lot of guys in the past get their careers ruined by a collision and they could never be the same after that. Even runners can run into the catcher and injure themselves."
A's catcher Derek Norris, who broke a toe last year in a play at the plate, said that any time you're looking out for someone's safety, it's a good thing.
"You can't sit there and give catchers free range over home plate and take away the whole thing," Norris said. "A guy can't do anything about that then. I think it plays fair to both sides and I think that's the most important part."
Added Astros backstop Jason Castro: "I think those are positive changes. I don't think they'll change the game, just some safety stuff that will keep guys on the field a lot longer."
Overall, the prevailing attitude might have been offered by Angels manager Mike Scioscia, a former All-Star catcher, when he said that it doesn't matter how you feel about the rule -- just that it's in the book and that makes it a very real part of the game until further notice.
"I don't think anyone knows exactly how the play is going to evolve from now on," Scioscia said. "But if the guidelines are clear, we'll live by the guidelines."
And White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers said that certainty is what means the most going forward.
"I don't know all the details, but at least a decision was made," Flowers said. "At least we know what we need to practice every day."