Purists may not like it, but at least for this season it’s going to be here. Yes sports fans, Major League Baseball has enacted a home plate collision rule.
They are one of the most dramatic plays in baseball. It’s man versus man, body on body, bulk on bulk–and simply who wants it more. Will it be the catcher standing in front of the plate with the ball or the base runner barreling down the base path as fast and hard as he can with one intent–knocking the catcher silly in hopes that he drops the ball and he can score.
They are also one of the most dangerous.
Baseball is not intended to be a contact sport–at least not among the players–but sometimes it happens. Did it cause injury in the past? Probably–but since the dawn of the information age we know much more about the effects of such things not only in the present, but potential long term ones.
With players learning more and more about training and becoming bigger, stronger, and faster those collisions could very well have an even greater impact. So why not change the game for the sake of health and safety?
Here is the rule that will be enforced this season in regards to collisions at home plate (via ESPN):
(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.
In short, a base runner can’t do anything but make a play for the plate and is not allowed to deviate from that path for any reason. Catchers can’t keep him from making a play at the plate either unless they have the ball (for more of the language of the rule go here).
Basically–you can’t have malicious intent when it comes to collisions. A catcher can stand in the way as long as he has the ball and a base runner can initiate a collision as long as the sole purpose is to score. He can’t try to hurt the catcher. So if you play ball and don’t try to hurt anyone outside of the context of the game you are fine.
It doesn’t sound like a bad idea, but the enforcement of the rule may be harder than imagined. Umpires can use instant replay to review calls, but unless it is obvious judging intent stands to be a subjective call.