Guessing at the changes for collisions at home plate

Brian Garfinkel

This here site is supposed to be an appellate court of hot takes. A story comes in, and we review the particulars. Then we carefully and impartially issuing rulings on the appropriate hot takes. We take this stuff very seriously. Except for Rob. But the rest of the staff certainly does.

The impartiality stops, though, when it comes to home-plate collisions. This particular court has already made up its mind. Picture the proceedings starting with a "Well, we know how we're going to rule, but why don't you waste your time as you see fit." There are no hot takes. There is a subjective truth. Home-plate collisions are stupid, and you should feel bad about yourself if you disagree.

Which makes this the most interesting thing to come out of the Winter Meetings so far:

Before we guess what the new rules will be, let's take a moment to review the people on the side of all that is right and good:

  • Bruce Bochy, former catcher, who watched the best player on his team writhe and claw at the dirt after a collision
  • Mike Matheny, former catcher, who retired because of concussion-related symptoms, and who realizes the importance of a functioning brain
  • Johnny Bench, the best catcher ever to play baseball, and someone who doesn't like home-plate collisions

Yet when every one one of these stories comes out, there's always a chorus of you just don't understand and some ex post facto reasoning about why the culture of the game would be irreparably harmed if there were one single additional protection for the players at risk for contact in a non-contact sport. The people in this chorus should feel bad about themselves.

Okay, now to the guessing game. We knew last month that changes were probably coming. But it's one thing to say, "Oh, yeah, we'll fix this," and it's another to suggest there's a one-size-fits-all solution. It's still a tricky subject. Let's predict the exact changes.

As a football fan -- and one whose team lost a game because of rules that erred on the side of caution -- the handwringing over home-plate collisions just amuses the heck out of me. Because if the rules change to "Do not touch a catcher on purpose, do not even think of it, you will be shot into the sun, stop," the new rules would still affect baseball far, far, far less frequently than the quarterback-protecting rules affect each and every NFL game. People grumble about those rules. But that's about the whole downside of them. Grumbling.

I'll put up with grumbling. But the good news is the rules won't change to "Do not touch a catcher on purpose." There will be a modicum of nuance. Like, say, the NCAA rules:

When there is a collision between a runner and a fielder who clearly is in possession of the ball, the umpire shall judge:

If the defensive player blocks the base (plate) or base line with clear possession of the ball, the runner may make contact, slide into or make contact with a fielder as long as the runner is making a legitimate attempt to reach the base (plate). Contact above the waist that was initiated by the base runner shall not be judged as an attempt to reach the base or plate.

It's an imperfect rule. A runner chugging along at a fast clip is going to make contact above the waist if the catcher is especially aggressive with the block and/or tag. So doing as the NCAA does isn't a catch-all solution, even if it's better than the current setup.

My guess at the changes:

  • Catchers without the ball are to stay the hell away from home plate (which is a current rule)
  • Physically blocking the plate will be expressly forbidden
  • Any contact that isn't incidental, and is initiated with the express purpose of jarring the ball loose, will be forbidden and punishable by suspensions

If you're looking for an analogue, picture a runner plowing into Joey Votto on purpose, hoping he drops the ball. That runner would get suspended under the current rules. If Votto dropped the ball, the runner would still be out. Everyone agrees this is a good thing.

The new catcher rules, I'm guessing, will be something like that. And after a short while, everyone will agree the new rules are a positive thing, too. I just watched a full season of Buster Posey making swipe tags. It was still baseball. My enjoyment of the game didn't diminish. I didn't start lactating. I can still quote Marked For Death. Everyone's okay. Everyone's okay.

Now it's your turn. When Bochy says that changes are afoot, what does that mean? I don't see a Band-Aid solution to this, or something that will placate the Bochys and Mathenys of the world and stop the movement. I'm guessing the changes are going to be substantial. And we'll forget all about them in May.

If you're angry because you're willing to trade a bruised brain for keeping things the way you're used to, please note that home-plate collisions are stupid, and you should feel bad about yourself if you disagree.

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