One of the novel things in baseball this year is a change to one of the sacred rules of the game, the home plate collision. Official Baseball Rule 7.13, states that “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.”
What does this mean? There is more text to clarify and expand – feel free to follow the link if one is curious. Despite this rule change, and a declared intention to protect catchers from needless collisions, there is still a high element of judgment call left in the eyes of the umpires. I’d expect to see as the season progresses this year, that the rule of precedent take place. As in, as more and more collisions or blocks happen, and sports pundits and fans begin to articulate their thoughts about whether this seemed fair, or that seemed fair, that the rule of precedent will start to take place. For the Padres, who lost a very talented offensive minded catcher in Yasmani Grandal due to a hard collision at home, tearing his ACL, this issue hits home. With a young once in a decade talent like Austin Hedges coming up fast, there is a need to protect your players. In the long run, saving a run, may not be worth losing a key player for 15 days, or 60 days. Baseball is definitely a competitive game and alpha male’s game. While every catcher would gladly put their body on the line for a playoff game, and the spirit is definitely willing to a competitor in every scenario, the body may just not be there. It maybe too much to ask for a catcher to take a full speed collision from a 6’2 – 6’5 245lb player sprinting from 90ft. With the rules in place to allow collision, a catcher has no place to back down. After all, what catcher currently in the game would be caught dead saying, “I’m afraid of contact” to the media and public? You would appear soft.
I think that’s the difference when talking about changing the sacred rules in a game that’s fast approaching 200 years. Looking at how modern day players have changed in comparison to players in the past. Today, with more and more players wanting to play baseball, and physiological body changes, and modern nutrition – MLB players are bigger, stronger, faster. The American Center of Disease Control has more details about the specific changes between American’s today on average in terms of height and weight, but the trend is clear, people in general, as well as athletes are bigger, and thus, the home plate catcher is facing a bigger and stronger target each year.
Despite all of that, and from what I hear from sports writers and journalists, the 7.13 rule change is a good common ground that will mix and match what the catchers choose to with the play at home. A catcher cannot simply position themselves in front of the plate, unless they have the ball. That gives something back to the runners. It also seems that a lot of injuries occur simply because the catcher is not really fully positioned and ready at the point of contact, e.g, his body is turned away looking for the ball. If the catcher is already in between the runner and the plate at this point, sometimes the runner has no chance but to go through the catcher to get to the plate. If the rule precludes the catcher from blocking the runner before he has the ball, then it will prevent meaningless collisions. But still, with hard-nose players, we will see collisions, and I expect to see a few good ones this year, when the catcher has the ball ready and he’s in good position to take a charge – now he can choose to take on the contact and then block the plate, with the runner coming and trying to knock the ball. I think this will make for good baseball.