Oct 17, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila (13) tags out Boston Red Sox catcher David Ross (3) at home plate during the second inning in game five of the American League Championship Series baseball game at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Dumbest New Baseball Rule Since the DH

We’ve had rumblings and rumor for months now, but finally we have it:  baseball’s Rule 7.13, released today.  The funny part is that the very players that are supposed to benefit from this – the catchers – didn’t want this rule.  But here we are:

OFFICIAL BASEBALL RULE 7.13
COLLISIONS AT HOME PLATE
 
(1)  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 base runners 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.
 
(2)  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.

 

That’s a mouthful.  Here’s the gist, as I read it:

  • Runners can’t go after the catcher.  Thou must proceedeth directly to home, and shall not vary from thy path.
  • Catchers can’t block the plate, unless they have the ball.  This will be kinda interesting, for I’ve never seen a play at the plate in which the catcher was blocking without either having the ball already, or at least expected to have it by the time the runner arrived.  So is this legal if the block is made and the ball arrives 2/100ths of a second before the runner does?  If so, then what’s changed?  The old rule already had outlawed blocking without the ball.

Brian McCann, Enforcer. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Oh wait, I guess I have seen one such play…

  • These plays are reviewable by the umpires to assess violations.  Marvelous.  Weren’t we all hearing about “pace of the game” arguments when the Manager Challenge system was put into place?  Fortunately, this doesn’t happen very often, but if anything would slow down play, these kinds of reviews will do it.
  • The comment basically says that if there’s a tackle of the catcher, the runner is out.  If there’s a bona fide slide attempted (head first or feet first), then it’s all good for the runner.  I’m actually good with that.

 

There is still a lot of ambiguity here, and room for umpire judgment.  Given that things like the Infield Fly Rule can go badly awry, this worries me as a baseball fan.  The rule indicates, for instance, that the ball can be knocked loose and the runner still be called out.  However, if that happens on a “valid” slide, there’s no violation of the rule.  In such a play, a catcher might also have been blocking in a rule-valid manner.  So if the ball is dropped, then what?  Paragraph (2) of the Rule is loaded with such judgment issues.  What could possibly go wrong there?  :)

I am also concerned about catchers having to think about whether the rule will apply while they are in the process of making a playIndecision during critical moments like that are what causes injuries – not so much the plays themselves.

If I were writing this rule, I would have banned the “tackle” moves alone.  That’s the problem:  when a 200+ lb. runner at full trot barrels into another person – braced or not – that’s when injuries occur.  I would be okay if the runner is not able to touch home plate due to a slide that’s blocked:  if he has no access to home, then he still ‘scores’ if he arrives before a tag does.  That’s still (unfortunately) a judgment call, but would seem like a reasonable compromise to me.

I don’t know exactly whether this is the Buster Posey Rule or the David Ross Rule (see the above picture).  Either way, it’s apparently now a rule, and I’m not crazy about it.  It’s likely to be baseball’s version of the College Football “Targeting” rule, which means it is liable to cause more problems than it solves.  I guess I’m glad we’ve got a big catcher… well, until Christian Bethancourt gets there.

But then we’re gonna have to see about that in live games, huh?

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