More on Carlos Santana and Yesterday's Big Collision

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More on Carlos Santana and Yesterday's Big Collision
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

First, I apologize to readers who were rightfully angered and outraged that the original title of yesterday’s post about the home plate collision between the Indians' Carlos Santana and the Red Sox' Ryan Kalish stated that Carlos Santana “Got What He Deserved.”  It was a stupid thing for me to write.

No player deserves to suffer a potentially serious injury simply because he was a bit too aggressive in trying to make a play.

I wrote and published the piece immediately after watching the video.  It stirred my pet-peeve about catchers blocking the plate without the ball, which I believe violates both the letter and the spirit of the rules. 

However, to blame Carlos Santana for doing something catchers routinely do and which MLB refuses to stop was just flat wrong.

Writing what I did also stirred up needless controversy and completely undermined what the post really should have been about.  The following is more along the lines of what I should have written yesterday.

Someone posted a comment to yesterday’s post stating that MLB rules clearly allow catchers to block the plate without the ball if they are in the act of “fielding” a throw from another player.  He cited the Note to MLB Rule 7.06(b) which states in its entirety:

“NOTE: The catcher, without the ball in his possession, has no right to block the pathway of the runner attempting to score. The base line belongs to the runner and the catcher should be there only when he is fielding a ball or when he already has the ball in his hand.”

The first sentence of the Note and the first half of the second sentence could not be more clear: “The catcher, without the ball in his possession, has no right to block the pathway of the runner attempting to score” and “The base line belongs to the runner…”

The second half of the second sentence provides two exceptions to this bright-line rule: the catcher can be in the base path if: (1) he already has the ball in his hand; or (2) when he is fielding the ball.

The comment contended that “fielding the ball” includes catching throws from other fielders.  I do not believe this is the most reasonable interpretation, and I contend it was not way the rule was originally enforced.

Instead, “fielding the ball” meant fielding a batted ball (i.e., a bunt or a swinging bunt), where as a matter of necessity the catcher must cross the base path to field the ball in play.

Let’s watch the video of yesterday’s collision again .  See how Santana set up to receive the throw from right field, and as the throw comes in toward him, his back leg slides across the foul line and into the base runner’s path?

Sliding his back leg into the path of the uncoming runner is obviously unnecessary for Santana to “field” the throw. 

Instead, it is done for the sole purpose of blocking the base path and impeding the runner’s progress for an additional period of time so that the catcher (Santana) has additional time to catch the ball and apply the tag before the runner (Kalish) scores.

There’s no way that Santana’s maneuver does not violate both the letter and the spirit of the first sentence and the second half of the second sentence of the Note to Rule 7.06(b).  In fact, allowing catchers to block the plate in this manner renders those portions of the Note superfluous and irrelevant.

This is obviously a legalistic argument, but I am hardly the first person to make it.  Here’s what Bill James wrote in his Historical Baseball Abstract , 1988 Ed. at pp. 187-188:

“The modern method of blocking the plate is, quite simply, illegal.  If you read the rule book (Rule 7.06 B), it is quite clear that the catcher is not allowed to block home plate in any way, shape or form without having the ball in his hand.  Period.”

James then spends the next couple of pages explaining his research into baseball history on the subject and the evidence supporting his claim that catchers didn’t block the plate between 1900 and the Second World War the way they do today.

As I stated yesterday, I believe the reason the rule is either interpreted differently today or simply not enforced as the game has evolved is that the fans find collisions at the plate, where the runner fights to score and the catcher fights to keep him from scoring, exciting. 

Never mind that it means that more catchers and more baserunners are hurt by more collisions which could easily be prevented.

However, the rule against catchers blocking the plate is to a certain degree self-enforcing. 

What I mean is catchers who routinely block off the plate as aggressively as Santana did yesterday eventually get seriously hurt because eventually a base runner will clobber him.

A number of comments to yesterday’s post assigned the blame on the play to Red Sox rookie Ryan Kalish for coming in with a high slide.  I don’t buy this argument at all.

The Note to the Rule clearly states, “the baseline belongs to the runner.”  In that case, why should Ryan Kalish, a rookie fighting to stay on a major league roster, be required to run around the catcher or slide prematurely?  In either case, he’s essentially conceding the run because the catcher is bending the rules.

Someone stated that young players are taught to either slide or throw an upright block, and not to slide late and hard.  Frankly, I played Little League ball for years, and I don’t ever remember a catcher ever trying to block the plate the way major league catchers do.

In fact, I would be very surprised if high school or college players are allowed to block home plate as aggressively as the pros do, because it’s just asking for more serious injuries that could easily be prevented.

I think the game would be exciting enough if the rule were clarified to provide that unless the catcher has the ball in his hand or the throw in from another fielder reasonably requires the catcher to move into the base path in order to catch it, the catcher simply can’t be in the base paths.

If that were the rule (and it was enforced), injuries like Santana’s would be avoided.

P.S.  Here’s the text of Rule 7.06(b) with comments and notes from mlb.com .

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