It started out as a good idea, a rule implemented to deter egregious contact between the runner and the catcher on close plays at home plate, but it has since morphed into something more.
The original spirit of the rule was to deter unneeded contact between the runner and the catcher — the type you would see when the catcher is blocking the plate without the ball or when the runner bowls over a defenseless catcher who has surrendered the plate and is awaiting on a throw from a defender. Now, with the way the rule has been constructed, it would seem that all what I would call “useful” contact has been made to be illegal.
Useful contact is defined by me as a close play at the plate where the catcher has received the ball, positioned himself between the runner and the plate, and the runner is trying to score at all costs, ultimately trying to blow up the catcher to jar the ball loose. That’s the way baseball was meant to be played — gritty and tough, yet respectful.
You see, when a catcher blocks the plate, he knows what he’s just signed himself up for. Comparatively, when the runner rounds the corner at third and begins his journey to home, only to see the ball arrive before him, he knows what his teammates, fans and owner is expecting — him to attempt to score a run at any cost.
I want that play to remain part of the game, and it needs to; if not only to protect the legacies of all of the players before this generation. It is at that point where the runner and the catcher are locked in a duel, and whomever can summon the most determination and toughness will emerge as the victor.
Let me explain why it’s not well thought out. The following is an excerpt to the rule from MLB‘s official press release:
In determining whether a runner deviated from his pathway in order to initiate a collision, 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 veering toward the catcher.
So, the way this rule is written says that the baserunner is never allowed to lower his shoulder or attempt to accelerate the catcher backwards no matter if the catcher is blocking the plate with the ball or without. In fact, should the runner do that, he’d be called “out”.
Conversely, if the catcher attempts to block the plate without having possession of the ball, the runner shall be called “safe”. Now, anyone that has ever been a catcher knows that receiving the throw and positioning oneself to make a tag or absorb an impact is a concurrent activity. You wouldn’t wait to receive a throw from the center fielder and then shift your body in front of the plate. It typically is a fluid motion, as this is the quickest.
Now, the new rule has said that the catcher can block the plate with the ball, but the runner cannot aggressively bowl the him over. I suppose the only thing the runner can do at this point is to lunge into a ferocious chest bump or to spear the catcher with the crown of his batting helmet. Not only is this stupid and unexciting, but it’s actually more dangerous for the runner, who is not wearing shins or a protector, running into a guy that happens to be.
These guys are professionals — the best of the best — and have been playing baseball all of their lives. For the most part, these players play the game the right way, which includes not pulling a bush league move of lighting up a guy who has conceded the back half of the plate and doesn’t have the ball.
The same holds true for catchers, who would be foolish to block the plate without having the ball. If you are stupid enough to do something like that, you deserve to be destroyed (and that runner should expect to take the first pitch of his next at-bat in the earhole of his helmet).
It’s a respect thing, part of an unwritten rule that most players observe and appreciate, and for the most part, self-policed. I suppose, like many things, the actions of few have resulted in a rule change that impacts the many.