An experimental rule, 7.13, intended to increase player safety by eliminating "egregious" collisions at home plate was jointly announced by Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association on Monday.
The timing allows for managers, coaches, players and umpires to use the entire Grapefruit and Cactus League schedules to acclimate themselves to the rule. The intention to enact regulations was adopted at the Winter Meetings last December; now the exact wording has been agreed upon. The highlights:
• A runner may not run out of a direct line to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher, or any player, covering the plate. If he does, the umpire can call him out even if the player taking the throw loses possession of the ball.
• The catcher may not block the pathway of a runner attempting to score unless he has possession of the ball. If the catcher blocks the runner before he has the ball, the umpire may call the runner safe.
• All calls will be based on the umpire's judgment. The umpire will consider such factors as whether the runner made an effort to touch the plate and whether he lowered his shoulder or used his hands, elbows or arms when approaching the catcher.
• Runners are not required to slide, and catchers in possession of the ball are allowed to block the plate. However, runners who do slide and catchers who provide the runner with a lane will never be found in violation of the rule.
• The expanded instant replay rules, which also go into effect this season, will be available to review potential violations of Rule 7.13.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy had helped spearhead the campaign to protect catchers, but he said on Sunday that he didn't want to comment on the specifics of the new rule until he had a chance to study the wording more carefully (see below). He did say, however: "[The baserunners] are getting bigger, faster, stronger. I'm all for it."
Red Sox manager John Farrell believes there's a simple way for runners to stay within the rule.
"We're going to instruct them to slide," Farrell said. "We're talking about such a quick decision that you've got to go in feet first or a headfirst slide if you feel like that can avoid a tag. There's no contact, there's no collision.
"I think where we run the risk is if there's indecision if a guy is either going into a bent-leg slide or standing up. We're teaching the mind-set, 'Slide all the time.' "
Major League Baseball and the MLBPA will form a committee of players and managers to review developments as the season progresses and to discuss the possible application of the new rule in 2015.
OFFICIAL BASEBALL RULE 7.13
Collisions at home plate
A runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate). If, in the judgment of the umpire, a runner attempting to score initiates contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate) in such a manner, the umpire shall declare the runner out (even if the player covering home plate loses possession of the ball). In such circumstances, the umpire shall call the ball dead, and all other baserunners shall return to the last base touched at the time of the collision.
Rule 7.13 comment: The failure by the runner to make an effort to touch the plate, the runner's lowering of the shoulder, or the runner's pushing through with his hands, elbows or arms, would support a determination that the runner deviated from the pathway in order to initiate contact with the catcher in violation of Rule 7.13. If the runner slides into the plate in an appropriate manner, he shall not be adjudged to have violated Rule 7.13. A slide shall be deemed appropriate, in the case of a feet first slide, if the runner's buttocks and legs should hit the ground before contact with the catcher. In the case of a head first slide, a runner shall be deemed to have slid appropriately if his body should hit the ground before contact with the catcher.
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.