Two years after Major League Baseball changed the rules regarding collisions at home plate, I shuddered with the news Friday that they’re now tinkering with the rules regarding close plays on the other bases.
Fortunately, it seems they got it right this time.
Unlike what they did at the plate, the powers that be this time seem to have gotten it right. They simply committed the unwritten rules we all try to interpret every time there is a collision at second base more specifically to paper.
You have to start your slide before the bag, you have to be able to touch the bag at the end of the slide, etc... No monumental changes were made to the way the game is played.
It certainly doesn’t seem like this change is going to take the game out of the players’ hands as much as the home plate collision rules.
The biggest problem with the rule designed to protect catchers is the fact that no one -- including St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny who helped to draft the rule -- really understands it.
It’s too complicated and it’s too subjective for the players to know what to do in the split second they have to decide what they’re going to do in a play at the plate.
Look, I don’t want to see catchers get hurt -- especially in the case of head injuries -- any more than anyone else does. But there were ways the goal of protecting catchers could be accomplished without eliminating arguably the most exciting play in baseball.
Instead of saying the catcher can’t block the plate unless he has the ball or that the runner can’t initiate any sort of contact, why not make the rules a little bit more specific?
First, the head can be protected by saying that the runner can’t hit the catcher above the shoulders. The idea is for the runner to get to the plate. And the runner has a right to the plate. So let’s not stop him from doing everything he can to get there BEFORE a tag can be applied.
Saying the runner has to avoid the catcher slows him down and limits his options.
By tweaking the rule to ban certain kinds of contact most likely to result in injury, it would likely encourage runners to slide feet first, largely eliminating the situation where the runner lowers his shoulder to blast the catcher off the plate. Why? Because it would be difficult to dive shoulder first and hit the catcher low enough to avoid the head when the catcher is going to be on his knees with his glove on the ground.
What happens when the ball beats the player home, the catcher is blocking the plate and the only recourse the runner has is to try to jar the ball free? Well that would be tough luck for the runner. If the catcher has time to set up and block the plate with the ball in hand, the runner should be out as long as a good tag is made. So the runner deserves to be out of options besides trying to slide around the tag and being out if he fails.
The idea is to beat the ball to the plate and the tag. Not to hit the catcher so hard that you’re safe on a technicality when the catcher drops the ball in a collision. Runners aren’t allowed to tackle infielders to prevent them from making a throw to put out a runner. They can’t play defensive back to prevent a fielder from catching the ball. So why should they be allowed to bash the ball out of the catcher’s hands when they’re going to be out by 15 feet?
The only time a catcher would risk getting hurt in this situation is if he was standing while blocking the plate without the ball and leaves himself prone. But at least his head would be protected. He can protect the rest of his body by vacating the plate when he realizes the ball isn’t going to beat the runner.