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Towards the end of spring training, Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci wrapped up his thoughts about baseball's new rules regarding collisions between catchers and baserunners at home plate with this: "We still have collisions. We have a hybrid rule that invites confusion. And we still will get catchers and runners hurt for no good reason."
Take this play between Toronto's Josh Thole and New York's Francisco Cervelli, for example.
Whether you believe Cervelli was safe or not (For what its worth, I believe he was safe, with his left leg beating Thole's tag), the play—and subsequent review—was chaotic.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi explained how he saw the play—and understood the rule—to MLB.com's Bryan Hoch after the game:
This (home-plate collisions) is going to be the toughest replay of all of them, because it's such a judgment. The way it was explained to us, if the catcher is in front of home plate toward third base, straddling the base, that is considered blocking home plate if you don't have the ball. And I believe that's how it was.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons didn't necessarily disagree with Girardi's take on the situation."The throw, I'm not sure the way he set up, but it took him down the line a bit -- not much," he remarked to Hoch. "But yeah, that's that gray area. You don't want to give someone an automatic run."
The managers aren't quite sure how things are supposed to work, but certainly the players do, right?
That's not exactly the case, Thole told Hoch:
I don't even understand the rule, to be honest with you. I don't even know. I don't know what I would have argued [if it had been overturned]. I mean, the ball kind of took me up the line, and I just went for the ball.
It's really confusing. I'll be honest -- I don't know if anybody really knows the rule with what they're trying to do, because you can still get hit at home plate. So I don't know. I'm just going to do it the way I've always done it.
While anything that promotes player safety is normally a step in the right direction, when nobody involved seems to actually fully understand the rule, it becomes dangerous. In the video, Cervelli seems to hesitate as he got close to home plate, unsure exactly where he was allowed to slide.
It's not hard to imagine a runner blowing out a knee with such a hesitation or inadvertently crashing into the back of a catcher's knee as he reaches across the plate to grab the throw while leaving a clear path for the baserunner to score, as the rule dictates they must.
Let's hope that scenario doesn't play out between now and the end of the season, when MLB and the players association can work to simplify things so that everyone involved understands the rule.