Major League Baseball proved once again that it's listening to the uproar caused by this season's new rules, and even reacting in certain cases.
Rule 7.13 — the rule about home-plate collisions — has been the toughest-to-understand change to the game in 2014. MLB is reportedly tweaking the rule after another strange enforcement last week. According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, the rule will no longer apply to force plays at home plate.
Development on Rule 7.13. Effective immediately, umpires instructed not to apply it on force plays at home plate.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) June 24, 2014
Runners attempting to score, however, must continue to adhere to rules that govern interfering with a fielder to complete a play.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) June 24, 2014
Regarding clarification of Rule 7.13 as it applies to force plays: Baseball is doing exactly what it promised, adjusting when necessary.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) June 24, 2014
It might seem like common sense that a rule about home-plate collisions, in which catchers are trying to tag runners, shouldn't apply in a force situation, but this hasn't been a case where common sense has prevailed lately.
Last week Devin Mesoraco of the Cincinnati Reds was called safe on a force play at the plate after Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Russell Martin was deemed in violation of the rule. After the game, there was confusion all around. Mesoraco didn't get it. Martin didn't get it. In fact, Martin flat-out said after the game that the rule needed to be changed. From C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer:
"What can I do? If I need to make an adjustment, what adjustment do I make?" Martin told reporters. "Honestly, I don't think there's an adjustment to be made. I think there's an adjustment to the rule. When it becomes a force play, then there should be something in there that you don't have to abide by the same rules as a tag play. That's the only way I can see it from it not being an issue."
We can all agree that changing Rule 7.13 as it pertains to force plays is a good decision, but the rule is still a head-scratcher overall. It was influenced by Buster Posey's gruesome injury in 2011 during a collision at the plate.
While the rule means well, it's verbose and open to too much interpretation. When it was announced, MLB called 7.13 "experimental" and left it open for review after the 2014 season, which at this points seems like a given.
The rule officially states:
(1) A runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate). If, in the judgment of the Umpire, a runner attempting to score initiates contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate) in such a manner, the Umpire shall declare the runner out (even if the player covering home plate loses possession of the ball) ...
(2) Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the Umpire, the catcher without possession of the ball blocks the pathway of the runner, the Umpire shall call or signal the runner safe. Notwithstanding the above, it shall not be considered a violation of this Rule 7.13 if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in order to field a throw, and the Umpire determines that the catcher could not have fielded the ball without blocking the pathway of the runner and that contact with the runner was unavoidable.
On Sunday, another Rule 7.13 reversal gave the Angels a run in their game with the Texas Rangers. It happened during ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, so the audience was bigger and numerous fans were left confused by the rule. For casual fans, it might have been their first exposure to the home-plate rule. It was a bang-bang play, where the Rangers were trying to throw out Kole Calhoun and it looked like there wasn't really another way the Rangers could have made the play.
Read the last part of the rule again and watch the video below, are you confident one way or another?
The whole thing is especially muddy for a couple of reasons:
• It doesn't seem like anybody — players, managers, umpires, announcers — is really clear on how Rule 7.13 should be applied. The feeling from numerous writers is that the rule isn't working, and that's true whether you're a Bleacher Report type or a Fangraphs type. When Rule 7.13 was announced, The Stew figured once we saw it applied in games, it would make more sense, but it really hasn't.
• Let's take a step back. There's division about whether a rule should even be in place about blocking home plate. Old-school types think home-plate collisions are part of the game and should be allowed. Others think catchers should absolutely be protected. Here's the problem: Even people who support the spirit of the rule can't entirely support 7.13 because it's unclear and its application seems uneven.
Making a small tweak was a fine first step. But it should definitely be a first step. There's more work to be done — either in further adjusting the rule itself, tweaking the wording or educating those in baseball about how Rule 7.13 should really work. Heck, probably all three.
Catchers deserve to be safe, and they deserve a rule that's clear, concise and effective.
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