Baseball is not often physical, but tight plays at home plate can result in dangerous collisions and serious injuries. That's the main motivation behind the MLB's experimental rule for the upcoming 2014 season regarding home plate collisions.
The MLB Public Relations Department's official Twitter account posted a release on Monday explaining what the rule entails:
The rule essentially discourages "the most egregious collisions at home plate." If the umpire determines that a hard-charging player purposely goes after the catcher and tries to initiate contact, the runner will be called out even if the catcher loses the ball.
However, for the catcher to obstruct the runner's path to home plate, he has to have possession of the ball—unless the umpire believes he couldn't have fielded the ball without obstructing the basepath. An automatic "safe" call will occur if the umpire feels that the catcher is intentionally blocking the plate without having received the throw.
Jayson Stark of ESPN noted that the rule will be reviewable via instant replay:
Former Detroit Tigers star and current Major League Baseball Players Association director Tony Clark expressed that this rule is not set in stone and would be reevaluated after the season, per USA Today's Bob Nightengale:
Clark later provided a statement in a press release on MLBPlayers.com:
There is nothing more sacred in the game than home plate, and baserunners want to do all they can to score a run while catchers want to do their best to defend the plate—in many cases at all costs. Therefore, as one might imagine, the issue of home plate collisions is one that generates spirited debate among the players. Because of this, coming up with a rule change that allows both the runner and catcher a fair and equal opportunity to score and defend was our mandate.
We believe the new experimental rule allows for the play at the plate to retain its place as one of the most exciting plays in the game, while providing an increased level of protection to both the runner and the catcher. We will monitor the rule closely this season before discussing with the Commissioner's Office whether the rule should become permanent.
During these negotiations, one thing became very apparent. Serious discussions over potential rule changes must include the input and feedback from those with the best vantage point: the players. With that in mind, I would like to thank those players involved in helping us navigate through this process.
ESPN's T.J. Quinn provided his take on the situation:
This is an interesting tweak to the rulebook, and there's a reason the league's PR office referred to it as "experimental."
While this does have the best interest of player safety at its core, baseball players competing at the highest level have been taught to score at all costs. In the heat of a playoff game, it's unlikely that a runner or a catcher will hesitate to throw caution to the wind if it means his club has a chance at winning.
Umpires will have to make more nerve-racking judgment calls in a split second than they're already accustomed to.
For those players who may not approve of the rule and for baseball purists who may think it hurts the integrity of the game, it's very possible that this is only temporary. It's a one-year trial run that could be a big positive if umpires and players adjust accordingly.
Sacrificing some of the drama of a play at the plate to make the game a little safer seems reasonable, but it remains to be seen how high-stakes games play out when players are acting on pure competitive instincts.