In terms of collision rule, wait and see
Jury remains out on experiment regarding catcher-baserunner clashes
I guess baseball's new guidelines on home-plate collisions won't hit some of us like a line drive to the gut after all. As the World's Biggest Baseball Traditionalist, I still don't like it, but I feel better since those in charge of such things dropped the nuclear approach -- with a shove from two powerful entities ... the MLB Players Association and common sense.
They've decided to just take it slow, experiment with this rule for a year and, if needed, make some adjustments after that.
Who knows? By the All-Star break, Major League officials in conjunction with the players might even decide to revert back to the old system that has been around since the invention of left field.
That's just me talking, and that's also me dreaming. If the Red Sox can win three World Series championships within the past decade after 86 years of The Curse, then the game can let runners and catchers have their way at home plate without restrictions. Which brings me to something I've said before along these lines, but it never gets old: Quick, outside of the Buster Posey horror three years ago at home plate, name all of the times in history involving a catastrophic injury to a catcher or to a runner trying to score?
See what I mean?
As for reality, when baseball finally discovers the right mix between what traditionalists want and what keeps prominent guys off the extended disabled list, the game will have a definitive rule for the ages regarding bang-bang plays at the plate. I'm guessing that rule won't be friendly toward the stuff of Pete Rose and Ray Fosse. It will be more like, what?
That's the question. That's also the problem. I mean, talking about an example of all or nothing. Unless you go all (allowing everybody to go with the flow of the situation) or nothing (runners can't run into catchers and catchers can't block home plate, period), you'll end up with what we have now -- good intentions wrapped in uncertainty when it comes to the practical application of the rule.
Let's start with the big-picture interpretation of Rule 7.13, which, by design, could evolve into an ever-changing entity throughout this season. As a whole, it says a runner can't go out of his way to collide with a catcher while sprinting toward the plate, but it also says the catcher can't block the plate without the ball in an effort to keep the runner from scoring.
Few issues there, but let's dig a little deeper. Turns out, collisions aren't totally banned under the new rule. Huh?
Under the new rule, if the catcher is blocking the plate with the ball in his hand while the runner is charging toward the plate, the collision is allowed. The collision is also allowed if the catcher is trying to field a throw while moving across the basepath while the runner is approaching.
If you didn't know any better, you would say that sounds like what baseball already had during these situations. Trust me. It isn't, at least not according to the fine print of the new rule.
You have to go to the "comments" section for clarification. The catcher, for instance, can't "block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score," unless the catcher has the ball. If the catcher violates that stipulation, "the runner shall be declared safe."
There also are restrictions on the runner. While heading for home, the runner isn't allowed to change course down the baseline in an attempt to knock the catcher from the field toward the upper deck. Plus, the runner can't do a Rose imitation by lowering his shoulder while plowing into the catcher, and the runner isn't allowed to use his hands, elbows and arms. If the runner does any of those things, he automatically will be called out.
Too bad all of this isn't that simple.
The natural instinct for highly competitive athletes is to do whatever it takes to prosper during every situation, and Rule 7.13 will force runners and catchers in that category to do the unnatural for them. It will increase their frustration, and it may cause injuries to some player who is trying to dial it back in a split second.
Veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski is as driven as they come, and he told USA Today, "There are going to be plays at the plate late in games where you need to block the plate, saving a run that ultimately gets your team into the playoffs, and not given that opportunity is unfair."
It also is unfair to give the already heavily saturated umpires another set of things to worry about during games. Even though they will be allowed to use baseball's expanded replay system this season to make sure their home-plate decisions are correct -- not only regarding safe or out calls, but Rule 7.13 -- most umpires pride themselves on getting it right the first time.
And then, there is this: Depending on the judgment of the umpires and baseball officials, runners and catchers who violate the rule are subject to ejection from the game, a fine, a suspension or a combination of all of the above.
I'm glad this is just an experiment.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.