News Column

Managers, Players: Throw Out the Home Plate Rule

August 29, 2014

By bnighten@, usatoday.com, USA TODAY Sports

Home plate (Frettie, Creative Commons)
Home plate (Frettie, Creative Commons)

It's the newest rule in baseball, and plenty of managers and players will tell you it's also the dumbest.

Implemented this season to help avoid home-plate collisions and prevent concussions, Rule 7.13 probably has served its intended purpose.

Yet it has created consternation, confusion and annoyance over how to approach -- and police -- the dirt around home plate.

Now, as playoff races gain clarity and the season trucks toward a momentous conclusion, the rule has inspired fear that it could send the postseason into chaos.

"It would be a travesty if it decides the seventh game of the World Series," Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, a catcher for 18years in the major leagues, told USA TODAY Sports. "I think the idea was to prevent collisions, and, in my mind, it's been successful. I haven't seen a collision all year.

"But it does need to be clarified. It needs to be much more cut-and-dry, because right now, it's hazy.

"I'm hoping they do something before the playoffs."

The easiest step, several veteran players told USA TODAY Sports, is to scrap the rule right now. Dump it as though it never existed -- as MLB did this season with an ill-advised interpretation of the "transfer rule" on catches.

As for 7.13? If you want to revise it during the winter, fine, but please don't let it decide a pennant race, let alone a postseason game.

Four of six managers of teams in playoff position or on the verge of it told USA TODAY Sports they'd prefer the rule be altered before the playoffs.

Some players are more strident.

"I hope they get rid of that, like tomorrow," Tigers veteran outfielder Torii Hunter says. "This thing is terrible.

"Now, you're causing bad throws because guys don't want to throw the ball over the middle of the plate. Or they throw the ball on the outside part of the plate, and he's safe. The whole thing is stupid."

The rule was implemented this year in large part because of the season-ending injury suffered in 2011 by San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey in a home-plate collision.

The result: implementing a rule that prevents runners from deliberately making contact with catchers at the plate when they don't have the ball. Catchers also are prohibited from blocking the plate without the ball and are required to give the runner an open route to slide.

It has created havoc with umpires and MLB's instant-replay command center in New York, with no one quite sure how to interpret one call from the next.

"That to me is the most awkward thing we're trying to get done right now," Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon says. "The play at the plate has all kinds of nuance to it that nobody can decide what's right and wrong. It's so unclear that you can't ask it to be umpired consistently. It's impossible.

"So I would go back to the old rules ASAP, and rock and roll."

The Cincinnati Reds almost felt guilty this year winning a game against the Miami Marlins when Reds shortstop Zack Cozart was out by 10 feet trying to score the tying run but was ruled safe when replay officials determined catcher Jeff Mathis violated Rule 7.13 for failing to provide Cozart with a lane to the plate.

Marlins manager Mike Redmond, a former catcher, called the ruling "an absolute joke" and was supported by team President David Samson, who said, "Everyone around baseball should be embarrassed by a call like that."

The Reds can't begin to imagine the Marlins' fury if that decision costs them a playoff berth.

"These are things that are affecting a pennant race right now," Reds catcher Brayan Pena says. "Everybody says it sucks."

The rule has caused confusion among umpires, and several veteran umps told USA TODAY Sports they will opt not to call it during the postseason, instead leaving interpretation to replay officials in New York.

The umpires spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the topic.

And Joe Torre, executive vice president of Major League Baseball, is fine by that, understanding the plate umpire's difficulty in interpreting the call on the fly.

What we won't see: a collision such as one last year between David Ross and Alex Avila in the AL Championship Series. Or the gruesome collision between Scott Cousins and Posey, an incident that many think led to the rule being fast-tracked.

"Probably because Buster's a bigger name, so to speak, it got a little more attention," Giants manager Bruce Bochy says. "But it's time to protect these guys, not just now, but later on in life."

Yet if you ask Bochy, a former catcher, he'll also say it's time for Rule 7.13 to be tweaked before the playoffs.

"I think you should so there's not a controversial call during the playoffs," Bochy says, "and make sure everybody's on the same page, take away confusion about blocking the plate."

Contributing: Paul White in Baltimore; Jorge L. Ortiz in San Francisco.

Steve Mitchell, USA TODAY Sports

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Original headline: Discontent rises over home-plate rule



Source: Copyright 2014 USA TODAY


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