New Rules Will Take Time to Understand
As the old adage goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Well, neither were the effective usages of new rules and instant replay challenges. If the first three days of the season have taught us anything, it’s that the new rules concerning instant replay challenges and the blocking of home plate by catchers are going to take time for umpires, managers, and even the players to understand.
Not surprisingly, we have seen all sorts of wild and wacky stuff with the Indians over the course of the first three games of the season. And why wouldn’t we? Is anyone really all that surprised that the Indians have had to serve as the guinea pigs for several situations? This is Cleveland. If anyone is going to have it stuck to them by the man, it’s us.
First, let’s start with the issue of catchers blocking home plate.
On Opening Day, the Indians saw first hand just how the interpretation of the rule in relation to the situation will have a lasting impact on how safe and out calls are made in the post-no collisions world.
On the play in question, Asdrubal Cabrera hit a sharp liner right back at the A’s pitcher, Sonny Gray. Gray gathered himself and the ball and then immediately threw home. Michael Brantley, who was running on contact, was tagged out by John Jaso, but not before a slight collision that left both players on the ground. Terry Francona immediately came out to challege, stating that Jaso had blocked the plate, the resulting in contact. For that reason, Brantley should have been ruled safe.
However, the umpires did not see the rule being applied in the same way as Francona. While Jaso did block the plate, he received the ball soon enough in advance of Brantley reaching home that his blocking of the plate was legal. He had the ball, the plate was his. The umpires agreed with this assessment and that Jaso did, in fact, provide Brantley with a lane to reach home plate.
As you can see in the video from the play below, no one seems to know what the rule should be or how it should be enforced. The A’s announcers reference the rules on blocking the plate and instant replay, but no one is sure as to how this should all be applied.
And while it is easy to criticize the umpires for not being able to properly interpret a rule, there is also the issue with the players. Catchers like John Jaso have been playing the position a certain way for so long that it’s highly unlikely that they will suddenly change the way they play the game when adrenaline is flowing and decisions are made at split second speed. Clearly, Jaso isn’t thinking, “Oh, I can’t block the plate,” Jaso just does it and leaves it up to the umpire to decide if he is in the right or not. As I mentioned, the umpires reviewed and decided Jaso was in the right.
There is also the issue with using replay. In the first game of Wednesday’s day-night doubleheader, the Indians watched as the umpires allowed a play to be reviewed that never should have been.
Yes, managers are able to review plays that they feel should be overturned. However, there are time limits in place for when they can and cannot make that decision. For instance, once the pitcher takes the mound and a batter steps in the box, a play can no longer be reviewed. That wasn’t the case on Wednesday as the umpires allowed Bob Melvin to challenge a play after both criteria had been met.
Also throwing a monkey wrench into this is that the play probably should have been overturned in favor of the A’s. Yan Gomes appears to have missed the tag. If he did, it was by a millimeter, a fraction of an inch. But here again, why was Gomes unable to make the tag? Why wasn’t he in better position?
Because of the collision rule.
Because Gomes was unable, by rule, to block the plate, he was forced to play out in front. As the runner slid in behind him, Gomes simply did not have ample enough reach to make contact on the swipe tag. Fortunately for the Indians, the ruling remained in their favor, but once again this showed just how the new rules concerning collisions and replay can impact a game.
The obvious point here is that no matter what they attempt to do, something is going to go wrong for Major League Baseball and all of these rule changes and relay systems. Mark my words, a play will occur, a decision will be made, and it will be wrong. Chaos will ensue and everyone will ridicule baseball to the nth degree. ESPN probably already has the stories written. All that’s missing is the names and teams.
However, the decision to bring instant replay into the game will ultimately prove to be a good one. Despite the bugs and the quirks that still need to be ironed out, this is something baseball needed to do. Let’s just hope they can get everything figured out before the Armageddon-like play occurs.