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I miss the collisions at the plate

April 1, 2014 - Michael Palmer
Why do we go to a NASCAR race? Is it to watch cars turn left really fast or is it the possibility of a flaming, metal crunching collision? Why do we enjoy professional wrestling, MMA or demolition derby? By now you have a good idea of where I am going with this blog. I miss the collisions at home plate.

An experimental rule, 7.13, intended to increase player safety by eliminating "egregious" collisions at home plate was jointly announced by Major League Baseball. This rule has been in place for youth baseball and softball and high school for some time and is a safety issue intended to avoid serious injury from collisions at the plate.

This is probably the single most misunderstood and misapplied rule in baseball and softball. There are any number of variations of the "must slide" myth. "The runner must always slide at home." "The runner must slide if the defense is making a play on him." "The runner must slide once he's been put out during a double play attempt."

None of them are true.

There is never any situation in which a runner is required to slide. The relevant rule is:

Any runner is out when ... the runner does not slide or attempt to get around a fielder who has the ball and is waiting to make the tag;

First, notice that the runner has two options -- he or she may slide, or he or she may attempt to get around the fielder. The choice is up to the runner. Second, notice that the rule says that, if the runner does not elect to slide, that he or she must attempt to get around the fielder. It does not say that the runner must not contact the fielder. Consider a common play:

The catcher is standing just off the line as the runner approaches. The catcher fields the ball, and starts to step across the line to tag the runner. The runner swerves to his right, trying to avoid the catcher, but the catcher continues his motion toward the runner, and the two collide.

The fact that contact occurred does not mean that the runner is automatically out. In this situation, by swerving, the runner satisfied the rule -- he or she attempted to get around the fielder. Of course, if the runner goes more than three feet to either side attempting to avoid a tag, then he or she can be called out under Rule 7.08(a)(1), but that is another matter entirely.

Finally, read the last half of the rule again. For this paragraph to even apply, the fielder must have the ball and be waiting to make the tag. Thus, for example, if the runner arrives just as the ball is hitting the catcher's glove, this rule probably doesn't apply either. Only once the catcher is in position to make the tag does the runner acquire the obligation to slide or attempt to avoid. In fact, if contact occurs before the fielder has the ball, then the fielder is probably guilty of obstruction.

The opening day of high school baseball found this rule being applied and a player ejected at the plate for not attempting to slide. The catcher was some 15 feet up the line. This would have to be a judgement call by the umpire as to whether the play occurred at home plate or in the baseline. If the catcher had the ball far enough up the third base line that the runner wouldn't be able to reach the plate with a slide, then the "sliding at home plate" rule doesn't apply.

However, the runner does NOT have a right to run over the catcher or try to knock the ball out, no matter where the play occurs. If the catcher has the ball trying to put on a tag, the runner's only options are to try to avoid the tag or turn around and get in a rundown.

While I understand the intent of the rule, I am not one hundred percent behind it. As a former catcher I have been in numerous collisions and most likely had a concussion from one violent impact. However, I did make the tag and hold onto the ball. It was a battle between two males playing a contact sport and the violence of the moment only served to sweeten the victory. I held the ball up over my head and the bench cleared to celebrate the moment.

The thrill of back handing an opponent sliding by with appropriate courtesy and charming restraint with a gentle tap of the mitt frankly escapes me. The two players get up, gently embrace and then walk back to their respective bench where they clean off that nasty dirt with their box of baby wipes.

Its only a matter of time before the ball is stepped down to a more safe fluffy sphere and then we can eliminate the outfield and play small ball with a badminton racket.

Why play the game at all, lets just declare every game a tie, gather on the mound, join hands and sing 'Kumbaya'" before we pass out participation trophies.

If you feel that I am alone in this objection, the catcher who was run over, (and by the way held the ball despite the collision) - his father came to me during the game and asked where he could go to find the pictures of the play. He was rightly proud of his young warrior and wanted some photos, which I am sure will draw attention and the appropriate "Woah!" response from his coworkers, fellow baseball parents and male relatives.


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