Nation & World News

Major League Baseball Changes Home-Plate Rules

By Bill Chappell on February 24th, 2014

Runners trying to reach home plate – and the catchers who often try to block them – will have to follow new rules that are meant to cut the risk of injuries from collisions, after Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association agreed on changing the rules today.

The change would take effect in the upcoming 2014 season. In announcing the new rule today, MLB called it “experimental.” Here’s the summary it provided:

“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.”

“Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of a 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.”

MLBPA executive director Tony Clark acknowledged that the shift has sparked “spirited debate.”

“There is nothing more sacred in the game than home plate,” he said in a news release announcing the change.

Clark added, “We believe the new experimental rule allows for the play at the plate to retain its place as one of the most exciting plays in the game, while providing an increased level of protection to both the runner and the catcher.”

The issue of violent home plate collisions — and their potential for reshaping not just a game but a season — was highlighted in 2011 when San Francisco’s talented catcher, Buster Posey, broke a bone and tore ligaments in his left leg after a collision at the plate. Concerns over concussion risks has also fueled the drive to change the rule.

Posey has not spoken out about the change, as Hardball Talk reported earlier this month. But Pete Rose, the man known as “Charlie Hustle” who once took out a catcher to score during an All Star Game, has not been quiet.

“What are they going to do next, you can’t break up a double play?” Rose told the AP back in December, when the new MLB changes were first aired.

“What’s the game coming to?” Rose asked. “Evidently the guys making all these rules never played the game of baseball.”

Here’s the complete rule:

Rule 7.13 Collisions at home plate

“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.”

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