Jul 26, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Texas Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland (left) collides with Cleveland Indians catcher Carlos Santana (41) while scoring in the third inning at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Experimental Collision Rule Hopes to Aid Player Safety

Collision Rule Looks to Limit Unnecessary Injuries

Major League Baseball is officially on the safety bandwagon. After hearing complaints from a number of managers and front office head honchos, one of the most exciting plays in baseball has been all but completely eliminated. No longer can a runner and catcher collide at home plate in a spectacle of violence and suspense that has been part of the game for generations. Welcome to the age of the collision rule.

Monday, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association announced that they had negotiated an experimental rule aimed at increasing the safety of both base runners and catchers. This new collision rule, which gained a serious amount of momentum following the gruesome injury sustained by Buster Poser in 2011, will be a part of the game for the 2014 season. From there, they will evaluate its success before making it permanent.

Although, one has to believe that given the high stakes associated with some of the top catching talents in the game today, in other words… money, it’s unlikely that this rule will be going away.

That said, the new collision rule is already receiving mixed reviews. Catchers appear to be mostly in favor of the change. After all, they tend to be the ones on the receiving end of these full-speed, blind sided, home plate collisions. WHy wouldn’t they want further protection. Baserunners, however, can already see the writing on the wall thanks to all of the unclear language and uncertainty about hat “certain movements” will be deemed illegal. As you can see below, Rule 7.13 aka the collision rule, is anything but clear.

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.

collision rule

Sep 19, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians catcher Yan Gomes (10) throws out Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (not pictured) in the eighth inning at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

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.

All I have to say is good luck to the umpire forced to make some of these determinations as a runner comes barreling in at full speed while the outfield and cutoff work on relaying the ball to the catcher. While the goal is player safety, the players are aware of the learning curve that will be associated with enforcing it and know that they will undoubtedly be on the receiving end of some bad calls.

Speaking to Indians beat writer Jordan Bastian, several players and coaches voiced their concerns.

“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.”

“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.”

“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.”

Meanwhile, the new collision rule should help keep two of the Indians key players on the field this season, catchers Yan Gomes and Carlos Santana. For Gomes, this is his first real shot at being an everyday player. Knowing that he has the security of not being cheap shotted to the 15 or 60 day DL should help.

As for Santana, he fell victim to a home plate collision gone wrong in much the same way as Buster Posey. If you recall, he broke his leg in 2010, against the Boston Red Sox, when Ryan Kalish attempted to barrel through him in order to score. Under the new rules it is likely that Kalish may have been called safe due to Santana’s positioning, but had the rule been in place, the needless risk by both players may not have been taken. You just never know.

Either way you look at it, Major League Baseball and the Players Union are doing their best to ensure that the best talent is able to be on the field each and every day. So while it may be easy to question the how they plan on enforcing this rule, determining the why is pretty easy. Sports are dominated by star power. Keeping the stars on the field is just the latest step in helping to create the best experience possible for the fans.

Tags: Carlos Santana Catchers Cleveland Indians Collision Rule Yan Gomes

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