collisions on the base-paths: a proposal

USA TODAY Sports

joe torre says he has no interest in any of the ongoing proposals to put an end to collisions at the plate. there's a very simple solution.

Fangraphs ran a thoughtful piece on the efforts by Bruce Bochy to change the rules surrounding plate collisions.

Before we talk about what the policy should be, we should talk a little about what the policy is.

7.06 When obstruction occurs, the umpire shall call or signal “Obstruction.”

(a) If a play is being made on the obstructed runner, or if the batter-runner is obstructed before he touches first base, the ball is dead and all runners shall advance, without liability to be put out, to the bases they would have reached, in the umpire’s judgment, if there had been no obstruction. The obstructed runner shall be awarded at least one base beyond the base he had last legally touched before the obstruction. Any preceding runners, forced to advance by the award of bases as the penalty for obstruction, shall advance without liability to be put out.

Rule 7.06(a) Comment: When a play is being made on an obstructed runner, the umpire shall signal obstruction in the same manner that he calls “Time,” with both hands overhead. The ball is immediately dead when this signal is given; however, should a thrown ball be in flight before the obstruction is called by the umpire, the runners are to be awarded such bases on wild throws as they would have been awarded had not obstruction occurred. On a play where a runner was trapped between second and third and obstructed by the third baseman going into third base while the throw is in flight from the shortstop, if such throw goes into the dugout the obstructed runner is to be awarded home base. Any other runners on base in this situation would also be awarded two bases from the base they last legally touched before obstruction was called.

(b) If no play is being made on the obstructed runner, the play shall proceed until no further action is possible. The umpire shall then call “Time” and impose such penalties, if any, as in his judgment will nullify the act of obstruction.

Rule 7.06(b) Comment: Under 7.06(b) when the ball is not dead on obstruction and an obstructed runner advances beyond the base which, in the umpire’s judgment, he would have been awarded because of being obstructed, he does so at his own peril and may be tagged out. This is a judgment call.

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.

Here's a further description of obstruction:

OBSTRUCTION is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.

Rule 2.00 (Obstruction) Comment: If a fielder is about to receive a thrown ball and if the ball is in flight directly toward and near enough to the fielder so he must occupy his position to receive the ball he may be considered “in the act of fielding a ball.” It is entirely up to the judgment of the umpire as to whether a fielder is in the act of fielding a ball. After a fielder has made an attempt to field a ball and missed, he can no longer be in the “act of fielding” the ball. For example: an infielder dives at a ground ball and the ball passes him and he continues to lie on the ground and delays the progress of the runner, he very likely has obstructed the runner.

So, other than that last comment on rule 7.06, there's no such thing as a home-plate collision rule. There's a rule about fielders obstructing runners; namely, don't do it, unless you have the ball or are actively receiving it.

The existing rule 7.08 begins:

7.08 Any runner is out when

And then it lists 12 scenarios where runners are out.

Here's my proposal: add the following subsection (m) to rule 7.08

[Proposed 7.08] (m) having the opportunity to avoid a collision with a fielder, he deliberately collides with the fielder's body in any manner other than a slide, regardless of whether the fielder is engaged in an act of obstruction.

[Proposed] Comment: Runners shall be prohibited from deliberate collisions with fielders. If confronted with a fielder in the basepath, the runner may make every effort to make contact with the base by sliding. If the fielder is obstructing the basepath and is neither in possession of the ball nor in the act of receiving it, the runner should attempt to contact the base by sliding. If the runner is tagged with the ball after being obstructed from the base, the umpire shall call obstruction, and the runner shall be called safe. If the runner collides with a fielder engaged in obstruction, the runner shall be called out; however, obstruction shall be called and the other runners may advance to the next base.

It's really pretty simple. The runner's job is to slide. The umpires should be more aggressive about calling obstruction where a catcher (or any other fielder) parks himself in the basepaths or on the base without the ball.

If the catcher is actually obstructing the base, there's no reason to cause a collision. You're safe, even under the current rules. Maybe the umpires need some prompting from the league to call obstruction, but that's what the rule is.

If the catcher is actively catching the ball or already has it, then the runner is colliding with the catcher in order to knock the ball loose. Sorry, but I don't think there's any reason - in light of all the terrible injuries that have occurred - that runners should be trying to bulldoze catchers or other fielders.

If the ball gets to the base before you do, you probably should be out. You made a bad baserunning decision. Giving baserunners an opportunity to make up for a baserunning error by knocking the catcher on his butt is a terrible idea.

We really need a rule as stark as "no collisions, ever" to have a meaningful standard. Bang-bang plays happen so much that allowing collisions when the baserunner thinks the catcher is obstructing (especially since he can't see where the ball is) will lead to no change at all, because the umpire will rarely be able to say that the baserunner could have changed course after he saw the catcher receive the ball.

And I don't think this is a particularly hard rule to enforce. If a runner slides into the catcher's shinguard, there's no question that the catcher is in the basepath. If the catcher isn't actively receiving the ball at that time, then it's obstruction. If the catcher has the ball, the runner either needs to slide around the catcher or learn to make better baserunning decisions next time.

Nor do I particularly buy the "entertainment" aspect of the home plate collision. I think this policy would encourage wild and creative slides at home plate, and I personally would much rather see a well-executed slide than a collision. Watching Adam Dunn pummel some catcher after the ball beats him by 10 feet isn't at all entertaining. There's no skill involved, just physics. Watching Joe Mather deke the second baseman, by swapping which arm he's using to tag the base? That's one of the most memorable base running plays I've ever seen. Home plate collisions encourage sloppy, lazy play.

That's not to take away from the crowd who likes to watch NASCAR for the crashes. Yeah, there's something dramatic about seeing a catcher run down. And if that gets you going, then I guess you weigh that enjoyment against the prospect of a bunch of dudes getting traumatic brain injuries for your entertainment and so we can all play baseball like they did in 1916. Which we don't, in dozens of ways. But I guess this is one tradition some guys - Joe Torre among them - can't let go of.

Rule changes aren't going to make baseball completely safe. But this rule change makes a ton of sense and should - at least in my book - make the game more interesting at the same time.

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