Collision rule remains controversial, murky

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
12:45
AM CT
Schoenfield By David Schoenfield
ESPNChicago.com
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We had two plays at home plate on Wednesday, nearly identical in nature, with completely different outcomes and thus apparently different interpretations of Rule 7.13 (2), or as it's better known, the "Home Plate Collision Rule," aka "The Buster Posey Rule," aka "Baseball Used To Be Much Easier To Understand."

The first play came in the White Sox-Giants matchup. White Sox leading 1-0 in the seventh; the Giants have runners at the corners with one out when this play happened. Gregor Blanco is out by, what, six feet? No doubt he's out, right? The ball beat him, White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers slaps the tag on him. Two outs.

Home plate ump Chris Segal called Blanco out. But Giants manager Bruce Bochy threw his imaginary red flag and the call was eventually overturned. The game was tied, White Sox skipper Robin Ventura was ejected, there was still one out and the Giants went on to score seven runs in the inning. The game arguably turned on that call.

The second play came in the Nationals-Mets game, with the Nationals leading 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth. With one out, Eric Campbell bounced to shortstop Ian Desmond, who threw out Matt den Dekker at the plate, with Wilson Ramos applying the tag. Mets manager Terry Collins appealed the call without success, and Rafael Soriano got the next batter to seal the win for the Nationals.

[+] EnlargeTyler Flowers, Gregor Blanco
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY SportsGregor Blanco was tagged out at home plate -- until the call was overturned five minutes later and he was credited with scoring the Giants' first run.

Like Flowers, Ramos set up in front of the plate, his left foot straddling the foul line. Rule 7.13 (2) reads as such:
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. Notwithstanding the above, it shall not be considered a violation of this Rule 7.13 if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in order to field a throw, and the Umpire determines that the catcher could not have fielded the ball without blocking the pathway of the runner and that contact with the runner was unavoidable.


Both catchers had possession of the ball. The rest of the rule is as murky as the fog that sometimes envelops San Francisco. I'm not sure either baserunner had a clear path, but it's not like either catcher had planted their entire body in front of the plate either. And the rule seems to suggest that if the catcher does have possession of the ball, he can block the pathway of the runner anyway.

Yet two similar plays, two different rulings. In the White Sox-Giants game, it took 4 minutes, 55 seconds to finally overturn the call. Sounds like a fun time. Ventura understandably went nuts, with his best Lou Pinella reaction.

"It's a vague rule and it obviously went against us today," Ventura said. "You look at the spirit of the rule of what they're trying to do and what it's actually doing, and it's a joke."

Ventura isn't the first one to call the rule a joke. Just do a Google search. On Twitter, Roberto Guerrero replied to me, "Saw it live and as a Giants fan ... even I was shocked! No bueno."

Not good, indeed. We're over two-thirds of the way into the season and the umpires, the review crews in New York, the players, the managers and us fans have no idea how to view these plays at the plate.

It's a joke. But nobody is laughing.

Remember, the rule was created to eliminate home plate collisions -- the impetus being the Scott Cousins-Posey collision in May of 2011. Watch that play again. Posey wasn't sitting in front of the plate; Cousins went out of his way to lower his shoulder and plow through Posey. The first part of rule 7.13 does prevent runners from doing that; that's a good thing.

The rule could have stopped there; just make the rule, as in college baseball, that runners have to slide. Maybe that gives the advantage to the catcher, but if the idea to prevent collisions and injuries, that's the trade-off.

End of issue? Not necessarily. Because you don't want to allow situations like this one, the most famous home plate collision in history: Pete Rose running over Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game. Fosse was standing several feet down the third-base line as he waited for the throw. Rose had nowhere to go. We want to prevent catchers from doing that. (To be fair, that kind of play, with the catcher so obviously blocking the path of the runner even without possession of the ball, was fairly standard practice for catchers in the 1970s and '80s but has mostly died away in the past 20 years.)

Is there a solution? Or do we just throw up our arms and admit it's always going to be a gray area, like charging in basketball or holding in football?

But it seems like there's a pretty clear way to sort all this out: (A) the runner has to slide and (B) the catcher has to set up in front of the plate, but if in receiving the throw his momentum takes his foot into the runner's path, that's OK. You have to allow a catcher to make a play without forcing him to be Baryshnikov. Of course, I think I just wrote rule 7.13 (2). So why was Blanco called safe?

It is a mess. We're stuck with five-minute delays, controversial decisions and important games being decided in ways that make nobody happy.

Just wait until this happens in the postseason.

David Schoenfield | email

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