Nuancing the Rules

The argument that railroading the catcher at homeplate represents the clean, hard-nosed side of baseball was bandied about by just about every sports outlet after Buster Posey was hurt on Wednesday night.  “Giants fans only complain because it’s their phenomenal young catcher,” goes the argument.  “Why change a rule that has been around for more than 100 years?”  Perhaps other teams’ fans assumed that our self-righteous bellyaching was coming from a suddenly smug bandwagon championship fanbase.  Correction baseball fans: we have always been smug and most of us have been here for awhile (sarcasm font).

Meanwhile, every Giants fan I know wants to string up Scott Cousins by his toes and beat him with his USF degree.  Several of the more disgusting comments suggested retaliatory bean-balls at Marlins’ hitters Wednesday afternoon.  Most of the others have simply been crying and rocking in a corner.

These two sides, the traditionalists and the progressive pitchfork mob need to relax.

First, can both sides please agree that the appeal to tradition is a logical fallacy?  Tell me why collisions at the plate are important and why that rule needs to be in today’s game, independent of the fact that it has since the beginning.  Does railroading a catcher, blocking or not blocking the plate, with or without the ball, add to the game of baseball, make it more enjoyable for fans, and demonstrate the athletic skill of players?  More importantly, does the rule itself fall in line with the goal of the game, which is to score more runs than the opposing team?

Second, does anyone want to argue that Buster Posey is not one of the premier young talents of the game?  Would a Rookie of the Year Award help?  How about catching one of the best pitching staffs in baseball on the way to a World Series?  I read some comments about how Posey “isn’t the next Babe Ruth or anything,” but as far as I understand baseball, he isn’t much of a slouch either.  Maybe both sides can agree that young players with a clean image improve all of baseball, in the same manner Jason Heyward or Stephen Strausburg also sparked our collective interest.  Protecting young players is no more important than protecting all players equally, but when a player is the victim of a bad situation, it should be up to MLB to address any concerns.  It’s good for business to keep your young players healthy, after all.

I simply do not believe that every meeting between a catcher and runner at homeplate should be a blank check to railroad the catcher.  It may add to the excitement level of the crowd, but it does not necessarily demonstrate the type of athleticism that the rest of baseball showcases–agility, bat speed, hand-eye coordination, etc.  If the goal of the runner is to touch homeplate, that should be his intention as soon as he leaves third.  That singular goal should drive any decision the runner makes, whether that is to take an outside route on a slide or to collide with a blocking catcher.  Observe that Posey was not blocking the third base path toward homeplate, but standing in the left-handed batter’s box with his left leg in front of homeplate.  The outside route to the plate was open from the moment Cousins left third and remained open as Posey swung around to apply a tag.  The trajectory of Cousins’ body does not appear to have been toward the plate, but toward Posey.

This is the aspect of the rule that needs to be changed.  I agree that a collision would be necessary if a catcher were blocking the third base path toward homeplate and had established himself as an impediment to the runner.  Yet in a situation in which the path to the plate was unobstructed, the runner’s obligation is toward homeplate.  The result, if this revised rule had been in place Wednesday night, would be an out on runner interference.

There is plenty of precedence for this sort of rule in other sports, including baseball.  In football, if a defender makes a play on the receiver rather than toward the ball, the call is pass interference.  In soccer, a slide tackle is clean if the tackling player touches the ball and not only the defending player.  In baseball, a runner must be making an attempt on the bag (and not outside of the basepath toward the fielder) in order to break-up a double play.  Before this rule was in place, a runner could spike a shortstop and make zero attempt at the bag (see: Ty Cobb).  I don’t see a lot of traditionalist fans calling for blood at second base anymore.

The intent of the runner needs to be toward homeplate, not the catcher.  Just as an umpire can call a wayward runner out at second for interference, the same should be true at the plate.  Ruling illegal all contact on a catcher is unrealistic; catching a ball and blocking homeplate by itself cannot constitute an out.  Yet the injuries Posey sustained occurred because he was not set and was not blocking the plate.  It was his unpreparedness for collision–in the sense he could not plant his feet or brace for impact–that seemed to contribute most to this accident.  Slightly changing the rule to allow the catcher more awareness of impact would allow him to sustain less injury, while not completely eliminating collisions at the plate.

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8 Responses to Nuancing the Rules

  1. Zach Waud says:

    “Just as an umpire can call a wayward runner out at second for interference, the same should be true at the plate.” It is true at the plate, it’s just that runners are always headed for home and wouldn’t interfere with the catcher if he was several feet off the plate. Cousins scored, right? He was in the baseline and within reach of home and he scored. If you say that a runner can’t barrel into a catcher, you also have to say that a catcher can’t block the plate, as the stated goal for the baserunner is to score the run and he would likely not be able to accomplish that goal by sliding. Are catchers in more clear plate-blocking situations supposed to stand up, catch the ball (with a catcher’s mitt!) and gently apply a tag?

  2. fogmansf says:

    If you watch the video, though (http://atmlb.com/mcgvkW), he is certainly not going toward the plate. The trajectory of his body is all catcher. He does score, after colliding with Posey he touches homeplate with his hand. I also didn’t say that the runner cannot barrel into a catcher: “I agree that a collision would be necessary if a catcher were blocking the third base path toward homeplate and had established himself as an impediment to the runner. Yet in a situation in which the path to the plate was unobstructed, the runner’s obligation is toward homeplate.”

    I simply do not see the an established obstruction in that video.

    • Zach Waud says:

      His (Cousins) leg slides directly over home at :38 in the video. His body is on the line betwixt 3rd and home the whole way. Does he angle it towards Posey to attempt to knock the ball free? Yeah, he does, but he remains 100% in reach and on-line to touch home. If Buster had caught that ball, Cousins is out, unless he knocks the ball free. Was Buster in the baseline? No, but he tags Cousins out if he fields it cleanly. We can’t say for certain if he’s be safe or out with a great slide, but If Buster doesn’t have the ball, Cousins can’t be out. Cousins won the game for his team. But, let’s say there is a rule to protect a “non-blocking” catcher. How does the ump determine who is “blocking” or “non-blocking”? What is the punishment for Cousins here? To me, this is results-based analysis. Buster got hurt, so a rule should change? What if Posey walks off the field? What if he got Cousins out? I sincerely don’t think there would even be a conversation.

      • fogmansf says:

        You would determine “blocking” vs. “non-blocking” in the same way you establish charging in NBA: is the player set? If the catcher is in place and blocking the plate, that necessitates a collision.

        Punishment? He’s out on interference.

        I see what you’re saying about results-based analysis, but didn’t NFL look at helmet-to-helmet after negative results? Besides, isn’t most sports talk about changing rules results-based analysis?

        • Zach Waud says:

          “Isn’t most sports talk about changing rules results-based analysis?”

          It is and it shouldn’t be. The NHL drives me nuts with this…2 guys get hit into the boards from behind, 1 gets up and 1 is concussed. The penalties should always be the same regardless of the result, but they almost never are.

          My problem with the interference idea is that if the catcher isn’t set, but he’s in the baseline without the ball, it should be defensive obstruction. Additionally, the charging/blocking call is one of the most frivolously decided calls in basketball. The ump has to decide in less than 3 tenths of a second if the runner is set, the catcher is set, the catcher has the ball, the catcher made a tag, the runner tagged home? If I was a Marlins fan and Cousins got called out on that play for interference, I would lose it.

          Changing things like this are the responsibility of baserunners, but also catchers. I wouldn’t describe myself as a traditionalist, per se, I just don’t like adding gray area to baseball, particularly on run-scoring plays.

          • fogmansf says:

            Off-topic: so you must have loooved when they called Fister on that balk, speaking of gray areas. That was outrageous.

            • Zach Waud says:

              BAHAHAHA, so true. No one likes balks. I mean, I get it, but no one likes them. Seriously.

              And back on-topic, I may not agree on a rule change (although after reading McCovey, I get why you do), but as a baseball fan, I hate to see any player, especially one as young and as talented as Posey get hurt like that.

              Best wishes from the entire Baseball world on a speedy and complete recovery, Buster

  3. Phillip Marshall says:

    LOOK CAREFULLY AT POSEY’S LEFT FOOT! It is twisted as if the cleat is caught in the dirt or on the rubber of home plate. If his foot was straight, there would have been a tumble and that is all there would have been. There is a site on the internet you can find to see this clearly. When Cousins hits Posey the left foot, because it is twisted is damaged. In that half second when the ball bounces up and Posey misses it, Cousins does not know and he is paid his $500,000 to score and that means knocking the ball out of the catcher’s mitt. No matter if it is Posey or John Q. Smith who is catcher.
    None of you remember Joe DiMaggio’s last year in baseball in centerfield and Mickey Mantle, the rookie playing right field. DiMaggio gave orders to Mantle that if he DiMaggio yelled “I GOT IT” then Mantle had to stop chasing the fly ball. Well DiMaggio called I got it and Mantle broke stride and quickly pulled up. He caught his cleats in a drain outlet and wrenched his knee and was out for the season. Mantle was a boy in a man’s body and never completed rehab and shaved 5-10 yeas off his career and nobody went out there and screamed and yelled at the architect who designed the drain outlets.
    I watched the Posey-Cousins hit in slow motion about 20 times before I said anything. I wanted to see what exactly happened. And I saw the twisted left foot of Posey’s. The Marlins are paying Cousins to score. The Giants are paying Posey to put the tag on Cousins. Way before little league these guys are taught to block the plate and knock the ball out of the catcher’s glove. At the second before impact, NOTHING is going to change what was taught to those players. If the ball bounced higher and Cousins was 1/10 of a second later and Posey hung onto the ball, Cousins was out and Posey is a hero. If Cousins knocks the ball out of the glove and scores, he is the hero.
    I refuse to pay $3000 for a ticket (yankess charge that for front row) $10 for a hot dog or pay for radio or tv coverage of the games. I grew up when anytime, you could turn on the tv and watch a game or the radio and listen to the game. So if these cash hounds, management and players want to get physical, they are being paid for it.

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