12/13/2013 6:31 P.M. ET
Change to collision rules go too far
Umpires, baserunners taxed by new legislation to protect catchers
By Terence Moore / MLB.com
First of all, collisions at home plate occur about as often as the Cubs are in the World Series. OK, maybe the Indians. You get the idea. With apologies to Buster Posey and other catchers who have suffered horrific injuries in recent years after getting smacked by a runner trying to score (you know, other catchers such as, well, um, I'm still thinking), this isn't an issue worthy of producing handwringing beyond just a few moments.
How about getting rid of the designated hitter? Now there's a worthy cause, and as the world's biggest baseball traditionalist, I'm not exactly giddy about the expansion of instant replay.
Even so, the DH lives, and more instant replay is on the way. If that isn't scary enough for those of us still kicking and screaming about entering the 21st century when it comes to changes involving our National Pastime, baseball's rules committee announced this week during the Winter Meetings that legislation to eliminate home-plate collisions could go into effect as soon as the upcoming season and no later than 2015.
Here we go again. In today's sports world, when something is perceived as awful or at the very least troublesome, the rumbling begins in the shadows, and then the shouting takes over. Before long, there are cries to get that "something" corrected in a hurry, which is fine. This isn't: In response to those yelling the loudest, rules often are changed or added by the decision makers of that sport without regard for the long-term consequences.
There is men's college basketball, for instance, where a heavy emphasis on physical play through the years made teams offensively challenged. So the NCAA imposed legislation before this season that basically said a defender can't touch an offensive player anymore. The results? Well, lovely, if you're not into defense and have nothing else to do the rest of the day or night. Scoring is up by nearly six points per game, but so are fouls and the length of games. The head of the NCAA Men's Basketball Rules Committee is Belmont coach Rick Byrd, and his team shot 52 free throws during its opener.
Which brings us back to the banning of home-plate collisions. The ramifications will be plentiful. A few of them will be obvious, and others will leap out of nowhere. For a sport that has been around professionally since the end of the Civil War, you can't implement a rule of this kind where there wasn't one and not expect the unknown to come in unwelcomed ways.
Let's start with the rule.
What is the rule? It remains a work in progress, but we know it will involve either all or some of the following: A runner won't be allowed to crash into a catcher anymore trying to reach the plate, and the catcher won't be allowed to block the plate anymore trying to keep the runner from scoring. Sounds simple, but what if the runner slides with his cleats high, especially if they are in the direction of the catcher? Is that allowed, and if they are high, how high is too high? And if the runner dives head first, what happens if he sort of rolls over toward the catcher and touches the guy's leg or something? Under both scenarios, would the umpire have to determine whether the runner's act was intentional or not?
The bottom line: Umpires already are under a lot of pressure with just safe-or-out and fair-or-foul calls, but now with the various aspects of this targeting rule, that pressure is about to increase by a bunch.
The umpires will have instant replay, you say? Since you decided to go there, I'll ask the same questions I just asked, because whoever is judging the replays will need to provide the same answers as the umpires while experiencing the same pressure. And speaking of instant replay, it will expand next season from just determining the validity of home-run calls to deciding fair-or-foul calls, safe-or-out calls -- and whether the runner was targeting or the catcher was blocking at home plate. If you haven't guessed by now, those who support instant-replay are highly optimistic when they say these reviews won't last long. I mean, the more elements you add to what replay folks either can or must review, the longer that already long games will get.
Then there are other factors. I mean, runners won't be as aggressive racing around third toward home for fear of suffering a targeting penalty that could result in a fine or suspension. Plus, indecisive runners will lead to injured runners, because their instant wavering ("Should I go in standing, or should I slide, or should I just go back to third?") will contribute to injured hamstrings, groins and knees. And if you're a third-base coach, do you gamble as much as you used to? Probably not. If runners can't attempt to score by any means necessary anymore, that gives the advantage to the catcher.
There also is that world of the unknown unleashed by ordering athletes not to do what they've done forever. But this is known: According to the USA Today, catchers suffered 10 of the 18 concussions that sent players to the disabled list last season. So something needed to happen.
Not something this drastic, though.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.