MLB Did The Right Thing In Banning Home Plate Collisions
Along with the major trades and free agent signings that took place at the Winter Meetings this week, Major League Baseball has also decided on a rule change that could possibly be in place by next season.
In an effort to limit concussions and gruesome injuries like Buster Posey’s broken leg, the MLB rules committee has decided to rid the game of collisions at home plate. The rule will go into effect by 2015 at the latest, but could be implemented in 2014 if the player’s union approves the decision.
Many will argue that the new rule will take away from a “traditional” part of the game–a key source of excitement and action that gets fans on their feet. However, for each Brayan Pena celebration, Ivan Rodriguez playoff series-winner, or Carlton Fisk double-tag, there exists Posey’s season-ending injury, Ray Fosse’s All-Star Game broken collarbone, and Rick Dempsey’s career-ending broken thumb. All this new rule does is take away the catcher’s ability to block the plate with his body in an effort to change the runner’s path home.
Instead, catchers will be required to provide runners with a clear lane to the plate, much like any other fielder at any other base on the diamond. If a catcher blocks the plate without the ball, he will be called for interference and the base will go to the runner. The rule works just like any other base–the second baseman can’t get in the way of a runner going to second base if he doesn’t have the ball, and now the catcher can’t for a runner going home.
Also similar to every other base, the catcher can block home if he does have the ball, as usual. However, the runner cannot target the catcher and attempt to tackle him to force the ball out of the catcher’s mitt. The runner must slide like he would at second base, or take the out and discipline from the MLB Commissioner’s Office.
For anyone debating the validity of this new rule, I’ll put it a couple of different ways.
1) With all of the concussion lawsuits being filed against the NFL, MLB took a necessary step in reducing the risk of these injuries. Concussions will still exist on freak plays, but the most avoidable source of head injuries will now be illegal. It’s a proactive move on the part of MLB to avoid the kinds of problems that the NFL is currently experiencing.
The previous point ties directly into 2) Baseball is not a contact sport. There will obviously still be plays at each base, and the occasional interference call, but by and large, physical contact doesn’t happen in baseball. 98% of the game exists without any contact between two players, so what’s wrong with eliminating one of the few sources of contact? If you’re watching baseball for the collisions at the bases, you may be watching for the wrong reasons (if you’re still watching anymore).
3) The risk to such vital members of a team is too large to continue allowing runners to barrel into catchers. Advanced statistics have illuminated the importance of a solid catcher in calling the game, throwing out baserunners, and handling an entire pitching staff. If the Cardinals lost Yadier Molina to a home plate collision (which they have in the past), the team’s greatest defensive asset and arguably the game’s best signal caller would be gone. Fans pay to see the best players play, and the best players want to play, so isn’t it in MLB’s best interest to do whatever they can to ensure that the best players will in fact be on the field?
My biggest concern with the new rule will be its enforcement, and how the catchers will adapt to a sudden rule change. If the rule is enacted for the 2014 season, I would expect both catchers and baserunners to have the rule change in the back of their minds. However, it’s hard to predict what will happen in the heat of an adrenaline-filled sprint toward the plate with the game on the line. I don’t foresee the rule causing too much of a problem, but the early goings may be frustrating for the players involved.
All in all, it was time for MLB to act on one of the few aspects of the game it could still control. Hopefully, this will lead to fewer concussions, broken limbs, and even day-to-day injuries. With head injuries in sports becoming a hot-button issue in recent years, I admire MLB in taking the necessary steps to make the game as safe as it can for players, while still not taking away an integral part of the game (like the NFL making the quarterback almost untouchable).
Kudos to the rules committee for getting this one right. Now let’s figure out the instant replay system.