Baseball does right thing with collision rule

Baseball does right thing with collision rule
February 25, 2014, 12:30 pm
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I can already see it so clearly, and because we’re talking about Bud Selig and everything he touches turns to smegma, it’s all but certain that this vision will become a reality.
In this case, it’s early in the 2014 baseball season. A Saturday afternoon or (more likely) a Sunday night. Either way, it’s national TV. Maybe Orioles at Red Sox on April 20? OK, let’s go with that.
So, it’s the eighth inning. Score is tied. There are two outs with Baltimore’s Chris Davis on second base and Matt Wieters at the plate. Wieters lines a single down the right field line. Shane Victorino runs over, fields it cleanly (as Davis is rounding third) and fires a bullet to the plate.
The ball hits A.J. Pierzynski’s glove with Davis still two steps away, but obviously running at full speed. Pierzynski’s turns and blocks the plate. Their eyes meet, they brace for a collision and then suddenly, they both realize:
In a split second, they both — Davis, more so — try to adjust and avoid what they believe might qualify as illegal contact and instead get tangled in an awkward heap. They both hit the ground, and Davis is now writhing in pain, holding his knee. He finally gets up, limps into the dugout and onto the DL.
The next morning, talking heads, nationwide, are squawking about that “stupid rule.”
That rule — which was announced yesterday— is called rule 7.13, and it states 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). A runner violating the rule shall be declared out, even if the fielder drops the ball.”
According to the agreement between MLB and its players, “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.”
Long story short, plowing over the catcher is pretty much illegal. It seems like the only way a player can get away with it is if he runs into the catcher with his body completely upright and his arms by his side. Like a bowling pin running into a bowling ball. And that won’t work.
So, basically this creates a scenario where the runner will pretty much be looking to avoid contact. He’ll be looking to slide. And if there is contact, the catcher will never be blindsided. He’ll have to first consciously position himself in front of the plate or chase a throw down the line. In other words, this is a good thing. A very good thing.
Of course, there is that indecision. There will be judgment calls that need to be made, and unfortunately, judgment calls aren’t necessarily a strength of Major League umpires. There will be some confusion. There will be some drama. There maybe be a play or two like the one I depicted earlier, where players are looking to avoid the more serious injury and end up hurting themselves a different way. Along the same lines of defensive backs starting to target knees because they can no longer target heads.
But above all else, the most important takeaway of this new rule is that there will be no more of this.
Check out that video if you didn’t. It’s ESPN’s Top 5 Home Plate Collisions, and while they’re a lot of fun to watch, they’re pretty stupid and pointless. All it does is leave catchers to serious and unnecessary injuries.
Bottom line: Just because a catcher is wearing a flimsy chest pad and shin guards doesn’t mean he’s protected. Especially when he’s not looking, and/or on his back heels and has a juiced up monster lining him up from 90 feet away. That’s not fair. That’s not baseball. And now, it officially isn’t.
That’s thanks to rule 7.13. It’s not a perfect rule. And with Selig attached, you know it will find some controversy. Or more, controversy will find it.
But in the end, there’s no question that it makes the game better and safer.
It’s definitely the right move.
Follow me on Twitter: @rich_levine