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Monday, February 24, 2014
New rule on collisions good for the game

By David Schoenfield

I can hear the old-timers grumbling from their graves.

Back in my day, we not only were allowed to plow over a catcher, we had to because the dirt around home plate was actually rocks and broken glass from beer bottles the fans used to throw at the umpires. It was safer just to run through the catcher than to slide. Of course, if we did slide and tore up our leg, we would just spit on it and rub in some tobacco juice. Didn't miss an inning, let alone three weeks if we sprained a finger.

On the surface, I like the new rule on collisions at home plate, although it appears there is enough gray area for the umpires to digest that we'll probably end up with some controversial plays during the season.

It would have been easier just to use the college and high school rule where the runner has to slide. That would seemingly take the umpire's judgment out of such plays.

However, a rule like that would arguably give too much leeway for catchers to impede the progress of runners even if they don't have the ball.

For example, the famous Ray Fosse-Pete Rose play from the 1970 All-Star Game. Check the highlight. See where Fosse is standing? He's right in the baseline, a good five or six feet up the line from home plate. And he doesn't even have the ball yet. How is that legal? No offense to Fosse, whose career was arguably ruined by injuries suffered on the play, but where was Rose supposed to go?

That type of play got out of control in the '80s, when, as Bill James once wrote, catchers were basically going up the baseline and tackling runners to prevent them from reaching home plate.

That aspect of play toned down somewhat in the '90s (maybe with the retirements of Mike Scioscia and Lance Parrish), but catchers were still blocking the baseline before they had the ball.

That's not what happened in the Buster Posey play in 2011 when he mangled his ankle in a collision. He was in front of the plate, reaching back to tag Scott Cousins, who could have slid but didn't.

Both the Fosse and Posey plays would now be against the new rule -- Fosse for hindering the runner, Cousins for lowering his shoulder.

Runners will have to work on their slides. Catchers on their swipe tags. I don't think that's a bad thing for the sport. If you want brute collisions, go watch the NFL.