Collision rule met with mixed reaction by Indians
Catchers laud safety aspect, but others seek clarity on role as baserunners
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Carlos Santana knows better than to block home plate without a baseball in his possession these days. The Indians catcher paid the price for that approach four years ago, when he suffered a serious left knee injury during a collision in Boston.
On Monday, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association announced that they had officially negotiated the addition of an experimental rule covering home-plate collisions for the upcoming season. There are guidelines to protect both baserunners and catchers, and Santana was pleased with the news.
"This is good," Santana said. "I like it that MLB is doing that, because of what I experienced four years ago. I think they made a good decision."
It has been called "The Buster Posey Rule," considering the conversation about collisions gained steamed after the Giants catcher was seriously injured during a run-in at the plate in May 2011. In August 2010, Santana was also taken out during a play at home at Fenway Park, when Ryan Kalish plowed into the catcher's left leg.
The situations involving Posey and Santana had their differences. In the play that took Posey out, Scott Cousins of the Marlins veered out of the baseline and knocked the San Francisco catcher over in front of the plate. In Santana's case, the catcher had his left leg extended across the baseline before having the ball in hand, forcing Kalish into a tough decision.
Both types of play were addressed in the language of the new Rule 7.13, which reads:
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). If, in the judgment of the umpire, a runner attempting to score initiates contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate) in such a manner, the umpire shall declare the runner out (even if the player covering home plate loses possession of the ball). In such circumstances, the umpire shall call the ball dead, and all other baserunners shall return to the last base touched at the time of the collision.
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.
Cousins was safe on the play involving Posey, but the runner would be automatically out under the new rules. On the Santana play, Kalish was ruled out, but the new rules would likely deem him safe given Santana's placement on the field prior to having the ball.
Indians manager Terry Francona, who expressed concern over the idea of banning collisions at home plate, seemed satisfied with the details of the rule.
"It doesn't seem like that big of a deal," Francona said. "I don't think it's going to be a lot of adjustment, to be honest with you, for catchers. I think the adjustment is going to come on the baserunners' part."
Cleveland catcher Yan Gomes agreed with Francona's assessment. Gomes, who enters this season as the Tribe's starting catcher, said he has never been one to block the plate in the traditional sense. He noted that his goal is to always put the runner in a "slide first" mentality before trying to take away the plate at the last possible moment on a close play.
Gomes said the new rule also falls in line with the guidelines enforced at the collegiate level.
"I don't think it's going to really change much of how we're supposed to take a play at home plate," Gomes said. "That's pretty much what it was in college. If a play took you somewhere and you guys run into contact, it happens. I think I just heard the runner has to touch the ground before making contact if he's sliding? So he can't just slide into the catcher. That's pretty much the same thing as in college."
Cleveland's Luke Carlin, who has been a professional catcher for the past 12 years, was pleased to see the experimental rule still allows room for the kind of collisions that are unavoidable.
"I think it's OK," Carlin said. "I think that they've tried to say that there are going to be some collisions still, and I think that the umpires, especially the guys that have been around, will kind of know. You guys know. If you've seen somebody go out of his way to hit a catcher, it's pretty obvious. The times that I've been hit have been where the ball has taken me into the path of the runner."
Although the catchers seemed to be overwhelmingly in favor of the new guidelines, position players around Cleveland's clubhouse still had some skepticism. Many indicated that they were going to want more clarity on the kind of movements that will be allowed or not allowed in the moments leading up to potential contact with a catcher.
Veteran Nick Swisher appreciated the attempt to increase player safety, but voiced some concern over changing a long-standing element of the game.
"Hopefully, it'll help out," Swisher said. "This was probably on the heels of some things that have happened in the past, but we'll see. I've always kind of thought ever since baseball was invented, the rules don't need to be changed much. With technology, obviously, comes instant replay. But now you're actually changing the game. I don't know. Hey, I'm down for it. Whatever."
Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis wanted to see how things developed this season before offering his final opinion.
"I don't know how it's going to play out," Kipnis said. "I'm sure there's going to be a lot of teams that are going to be happy and ticked off about these new rules. The way it's going to play out, they're going to be on both sides of each call. I don't know. It's adding another human element to the game with the umpires, adding another responsibility for them. I'll be all ears once the first controversy hits."