Major League Baseball and the Major League Players Association have instituted a new rule on an experimental basis for 2014. Rule 7.13 governs home plate collisions and is primarily designed to eliminate “egregious” collisions (i.e., cheap shots) at the plate. The rule is in effect for spring training so players have time to get used to it.
In brief, 7.13 says that the base runner may not “deviate from a direct path to the plate” in order to cause contact with the catcher or the player covering the plate. The catcher/player covering the plate cannot block the base path unless he has possession of the ball. All calls will be based on the judgement of the umpire, who can take into consideration visual factors like whether or not the base runner lowered his shoulder or used his hands, arms, or elbows when approaching the catcher. For those who are interested, the full text of the new rule is at the bottom of this post.
MLB has been toying with the idea of a specific rule governing home plate collisions for a while, but the idea didn’t seem to gain legs until Giants catcher Buster Posey was, well, busted up by Scott Cousins of the Marlins in May 2011. However, Indians fans have a special interest in home plate collisions. Carlos Santana sustained a season-ending knee injury in a collision with Boston’s Ryan Kalish in August 2010. Fortunately, the injury didn’t seem to have any lasting ill effects. Then there’s the Ray Fosse-Pete Rose body slam during the 1970 All-Star Game. Fosse, who had been one of the few bright up-and-coming stars for the Indians, sustained a separated shoulder and was never the same player. At all.
Looking at video from each of these three incidents can cause a bit of stomach churning, but also demonstrates the common sense need for the rule. The new rule doesn’t require the base runner to slide and allows catchers to block the plate if they have possession of the ball. In the Posey-Cousins collision, Posey had possession of the ball and Cousins pretty much barreled into him anyway. However, Cousins was called safe. Under rule 7.13, he would have been out (and rightfully so). In Santana’s case, only his left leg was in the base path, so you could argue that he wasn’t technically “blocking” the plate, but he didn’t have possession of the ball. Nonetheless, Kalish was ruled out. As much as watching Santana’s leg twist like a Cirque de Soleil contortionist (he loses his shoe, for crying out loud) is excruciatingly painful to watch, Kalish would likely have been called safe under the new rule.
And as for dear Ray Fosse? Well, he was in the base path and didn’t have possession of the ball. However, if that collision had happened under rule 7.13, the umpire could have taken into account Rose’s body language, in which he puts his head and shoulders down a bit, not for one of his head-first slides, but to slam into Ray Fosse like a…a… oh hell, I can’t even think of a good metaphor because the hit seems so deliberate. Rose was aiming for Fosse, not the plate. So would rule 7.13 have saved Ray Fosse? Possibly. Let’s hope it’ll preserve the bodies of future Indians catchers. (Please God, don’t let anyone hurt Yan Gomes.)
Collisions at home plate
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.
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.