Yesterday, Major League Baseball announced their first attempt to protect players from collisions at home plate.
Here’s the meat of the new rule:
- 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.
How will it change the game in reality? For the runners, “direct pathway to the plate” has to mean more than staying within the baselines. Perhaps they mean moving your body, leading with your hand or foot, covering the shortest distance possible between where you are and the closest part of the plate. Aiming for the catcher = bad. Aiming for the plate = good. However, what if you are dodging a tag and initiate more than a brushing contact with the catcher? Under the rule you could be out, but it seems to go beyond the rule’s purpose: preventing harmful violent collisions.
For the catcher, it’s a big issue of timing. If you block the plate when you have the ball, you’re fine and the runner’s out. If you block the plate before you have the ball, the runner is safe. There’s the rub. A strategic catcher might end up causing the legal collision to be more violent. To abide by the rule the catcher should be sure to stay clear enough behind the front of the plate before he gets the ball. When he does get the ball, in many cases, instead of starting from a more stationary position, the catcher then would have to move/lunge to block the plate. Someone else can check my physics, but having both players in motion at the time should create a greater force of impact.
Still, the play is still rare enough that we won’t notice the impact on the game. For a couple of years, expect the plays at the plate to be a little more awkward.
If you are looking for a more exciting change, take a look at the “Live Fly Ball” rule.