On Monday, Major League Baseball implemented the long-discussed new rule to "prohibit the most egregious collisions at home plate." Scott Merkin relays the details from the MLBPA:
• 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 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.
This rule does not mandate that the runner always has to slide or that the catcher can never block the plate. On the pathway call, the umpire will consider whether the runner made an effort to touch the plate and whether he lowered his shoulders or pushed through with his hands, elbows or arms when moving toward the catcher.
These rules sound like they could have been in the book the whole time, since it doesn't actually change Point A to Point B. It makes no sense to allow a catcher to deny the runner the baseline without the ball, and it's even more out of bounds -- literally -- for a player to square up a catcher who is giving him a line to the plate.
And it looks like it doesn't expect the umpire to make a ruling on inadvertent contact when the play just happens to take the runner and catcher into each other. Those are the kinds of collisions that happen at every base.
Tyler Flowers said he was pleased to hear the news, not so much because it affects him personally, but because the decision is made and players can prepare accordingly. He said it may change more for him on the other side of the equation:
"For us slower baserunners, it's going to be a little different," Flowers said. "Sometimes we have a chance to run them over and score. Now we have to make it."
Our old friend and fellow slow baserunner A.J. Pierzynski, who treasures each and every full-contact scenario the game affords him, did not take the news as well.
"It's one of those things, as a big-league catcher, I signed up for it. You never want to see guys get hurt, and you never want to see guys go down because of it, but it's part of the game you signed up for.
"There are going to be plays at the plate, late in games, where you need to block the plate and try to keep that guy from scoring, saving save a run that ultimately gets your team into the playoffs.
"And not given that opportunity is unfair. I understand why the rule is made, but I wish there was a better way to go about it.''
MLBPA executive director Tony Clark says the rule is only in effect for the 2014 season at the moment, in case it turns out to be more convoluted in practice than it does on paper. Objections like Pierzynski's will be taken into account. I'm not sure if the alarmism will:
"I understand why they're doing it, but next, they're going to tell us that you can't slide into the guy at second base."
Well, sure, maybe the way he does it.
And next they're going to tell you that you can't step on some backs rounding third...