Major League Baseball announced Monday that it passed a new set of rules regarding plays at home plate, prohibiting not all collisions between base runner and catcher, but only “the most egregious.” Though players need to sign off on the experimental, one-year rule change before it’s put into effect for Opening Day on March 31, Tony Clark, the union chief of the Major League Baseball Players Association, has already stated (audio clip below) that the players are “remarkably concerned” about the proposal.
In short, the statute mandates that 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,” and that the catcher cannot block the runner’s path to the plate unless he, the catcher, is in possession of the baseball. It’s important to also note that these plays can be subsequently reviewed by instant replay.
The proposal comes nearly three years after San Francisco Giants star catcher Buster Posey fractured his ankle after bearing the brunt of a home plate collision, which is part of what some believe has inspired the new rules.
“I think it’s not only a reaction to the Posey injury, but to the problem with concussions in the NFL,” said Murray Chass, former national baseball writer for The New York Times. “Baseball is saying, ‘let’s not allow us to get to that point.’”
While the rules are intended make the game safer, it implicitly considers the runner to be the one in control of play, when in fact the catcher is protected by a chest guard, mask and leg pads, and can still drop his knee to block the plate, thus forcing the runner into a collision where the only option is for the runner to barrel over the catcher. Umpires would not deem such a scenario egregious, but the rule would still favor the catcher.