Podcast: Baseball in The District - Episode 1
Major League Baseball has officially announced new rules to prevent collisions at home plate, another groundbreaking move by the league made this offseason. Also approved was the expansion of instant replay, which was announced in January.
Runners will now be called out if they change their course to home plate in order to create contact with a catcher. The runner "may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate," according to a press release from the league.
Catchers are also not allowed to block the pathway of the runner if they do not have possession of the baseball. This can result in the runner being safe, if the umpire deems the runner's path to score was obstructed.
All that is pretty clear, but there are some gray areas. Consider this passage from the press release:
"In determining whether a runner deviated from his pathway in order to initiate a collision, the Umpire will consider whether the runner made an effort to touch the plate, and whether he lowered his shoulders or pushed through with his hands, elbows or arms when veering toward the catcher. The rule that will be in effect in 2014 does not mandate that the runner always slide or that the catcher can never block the plate. However, runners who slide, and catchers who provide the runner with a lane to reach the plate, will never be found to be in violation of the new rule."
MLB adds that clubs will now be required to train both baserunners and catchers on the new rules. Runners will have to know how to properly slide, and catchers will have to provide a clear lane for the runner to cross the plate. This will be implemented across all levels of each organization.
Like any new rule in sports, there will probably be some confusion when it first comes up in actual games. In the longrun, however, it should prevent serious injuries which do happen every once in a while on collisions at the plate.