Major League baseball has adopted a rule that it hopes will eliminate violent home plate collisions like the one that ended Buster Posey's 2011 season. Despite the noble intentions behind the league's efforts, not everyone is on board with the rule, which will be implemented on a trial basis during the 2014 season.
Posey has actually been fairly quiet on the issue, but the Associated Press reported that he was in favor of the rule prior to its implementation. Posey may not want to alienate his fellow catchers by supporting the rule too vocally. Even though it is meant to protect them, many catchers have reservations about the rule.
"I understand that they're trying to make the game safer. I appreciate that Major League Baseball is making an attempt to protect the guys who play my position.
"The one thing I hate about the rule is it takes away the game-changing or game-saving play. It's something we train for, we prepare for, and can be the difference between a win or a loss. It's similar to robbing a home run or turning a tough double play in the middle. Those are plays that are at risk for injury and I don't see those plays being taken away."
His teammate Drew Butera has reservations as well, via True Blue LA:
"It will be an adjustment period at first. We're taught as catchers to block the plate and get ready for a collision if that may be."
"It's one of those things, as a big-league catcher, I signed up for it. You never want to see guys get hurt, and you never want to see guys go down because of it, but it's part of the game you signed up for.
"There are going to be plays at the plate, late in games, where you need to block the plate and try to keep that guy from scoring, saving a run that ultimately gets your team into the playoffs.
"And not being given that opportunity is unfair. I understand why the rule is made, but I wish there was a better way to go about it.''
At Pinstipe Alley, Andrew Mearns pointed out how the vague nature of the rule could lead to controversies:
The second part of the rule looks like it's designed to ensure that the runner is not tempted to take the catcher out. The catcher will not be allowed to stand in front of home plate without the ball coming his path. Here's where the situation could get dicey.
It is completely up to the umpire whether or not Brian McCann could have fielded the ball without getting into the runner's path. On throws from right field and most throws from center, there would thus be little reason for the catcher to be blocking home plate since the throw is received up the middle or on the first base side. On throws from left field though...[snip]... the catcher could move up the third base line a little bit to receive the throw and would seem to have a legitimate claim as to why he happens to be blocking home plate--he wants to receive the throw and apply the tag as soon as possible. Under these circumstances, how could an umpire call it a violation of the rule?
Not everyone is against the new rule, however. Catcher J.P Arencibia, who will see time behind the plate for the Rangers in 2014, voiced his support for it, talking to Drew Davison of the Dallas Star-Telegram:
"It takes away the malicious intent behind the play at the plate.The runner doesn't always have to slide and the catcher still has the ability to block the plate when he has the ball in hand. But it's giving that runner the lane and making sure when you give him that lane that there's appropriate action on his end to slide."
His manager, Ron Washington, is also on board, but he isn't sure it will solve the problem, via the Star-Telegram:
"I'm in favor of what it is to keep the game healthy. It's not going to stop guys. We have to wait and see when the games are played what it's going to cause."
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports is glad that the rule will protect players without going too far in changing how the game is played:
This will be good for baseball -- in part because of what it doesn't do. It doesn't legislate contact out of plays at the plate. It doesn't necessarily ban all "collisions," in the truest sense of that term. But it reduces the risk of serious injury in two significant ways: Players no longer have the right to seek contact when the catcher isn't blocking the plate, as was the case with Cousins and Posey, and both parties have a clearer idea of what to expect on what had been an ambiguous play.
As with any change to the rules, we will need to see how this actually plays out in games before it becomes clear whether the rule will be effective and still not impact the game to the extent that fans and players can't abide it. Keeping players safe should certainly be a priority for any league, but as the catchers above point out, protecting the plate has been ingrained in baseball for a long time and it will be hard for many people around the game to adjust to a different way of handling these game-altering plays.