MLB intends to eliminate home-plate collisions

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Pete Rose sounded bowled over.

Charlie

Hustle, who famously flattened Ray Fosse to score the winning run in

the 1970 All-Star game, couldn’t believe Major League Baseball intends

to eliminate home-plate collisions by 2015 at the latest.

“What

are they going to do next, you can’t break up a double play?” Rose said

in a telephone interview with The Associated Press after MLB announced

its plan Wednesday.

“You’re not allowed to pitch inside. The

hitters wear more armor than the Humvees in Afghanistan. Now you’re not

allowed to try to be safe at home plate?” Rose said. “What’s the game

coming to? Evidently the guys making all these rules never played the

game of baseball.”

New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson,

chairman of the rules committee, made the announcement at the winter

meetings, saying the change would go into effect for next season if the

players’ association approved. Safety and concern over concussions were

major factors — fans still cringe at the thought of the season-ending

hit Buster Posey absorbed in 2011.

“Ultimately what we want to do

is change the culture of acceptance that these plays are ordinary and

routine and an accepted part of the game,” Alderson said. “The costs

associated in terms of health and injury just no longer warrant the

status quo.”

In a sport long bound by tradition, a ban will be a

major step. MLB also is instituting a vast increase in the use of

instant replay by umpires next season in an effort to eliminate blown

calls.

The NFL reached a settlement last summer in a

concussion-related lawsuit by former players for $765 million, and a

group of hockey players sued the NHL last month over brain trauma.

Banned

for life in 1989 following a gambling investigation, Rose insists Fosse

was blocking the plate without the ball, which is against the rules.

Fosse injured a shoulder, and his career went into a downslide.

“Since

1869, baseball has been doing pretty well,” Rose said. “The only rules

they ever changed was the mound (height) and the DH. I thought baseball

was doing pretty good. Maybe I’m wrong about the attendance figures and

the number of people going to ballgames.”

Alderson said wording

of the rules change will be presented to owners for approval at their

Jan. 16 meeting in Paradise Valley, Ariz. Details must be sorted out,

such as what should happen if a catcher blocks the plate without the

ball?

“The exact language and how exactly the rule will be

enforced is subject to final determination,” he said. “We’re going to do

fairly extensive review of the types of plays that occur at home plate

to determine which we’re going to find acceptable and which are going to

be prohibited.”

Approval of the players’ union is needed for the rules change to be effective for 2014.

“If

the players’ association were to disapprove, then the implementation of

the rule would be suspended for one year, but could be implemented

unilaterally after that time,” Alderson said.

The union declined comment, pending a review of the proposed change. Some players spoke up on Twitter.

“No more home plate collisions?! What is this? NFL quarterbacks are catchers now?” Oakland outfielder Josh Reddick wrote.

“Nothing

better than getting run over and showing the umpire the ball. Please

don’t ban home plate collisions,” Pittsburgh rookie catcher Tony Sanchez

posted.

“Totally disagree,” added retired catcher John Flaherty, now an analyst with the Yankees’ YES Network.

Discussion

to limit or ban collisions has intensified since May 2011, when Posey

was injured as the Marlins’ Scott Cousins crashed the plate. Posey, San

Francisco’s All-Star catcher, sustained a broken bone in his lower left

leg and three torn ligaments in his ankle, an injury that ended his

season.

Posey returned to win the NL batting title and MVP award

in 2012, when he led the Giants to their second World Series title in

three seasons.

In Game 5 of this year’s AL championship series,

Detroit catcher Alex Avila was pulled a couple innings after being run

over at the plate by Boston’s David Ross, a fellow catcher sidelined for

much of the season by concussions resulting from foul tips.

“This

is, I think, in response to a few issues that have arisen,” Alderson

said. “One is just the general occurrence of injuries from these

incidents at home plate that affect players, both runners and catchers.

And also kind of the general concern about concussions that exists not

only in baseball but throughout professional sports and amateur sports

today. It’s an emerging issue, and one that we in baseball have to

address, as well as other sports.”

Former catchers Joe Girardi, Bruce Bochy and Mike Matheny — all now managing in the majors — attended Wednesday’s meeting.

“I

don’t think it’s completely sparked by anything that’s happened in

baseball as much as what’s happening outside of baseball and how it’s

impacting people and impacting the welfare of each sport,” said Matheny,

now managing the St. Louis Cardinals.

But not everyone is in favor of a change.

“I

lost time as a catcher being run over a couple different times, but I

thought it was part of my job and I enjoyed the contact,” said Girardi,

the New York Yankees’ manager. “Now I’m not so sure that everyone enjoys

contact. But I love football, so I liked it.”

MLB intends to have varied tiers of punishment.

“I

think there will be two levels of enforcement,” Alderson said. “One

will be with respect to whether the runner is declared safe or out based

on conduct. So, for example, intentionally running over the catcher

might result in an out call. So I think that the enforcement will be on

the field as well as subsequent consequences in the form of fines and

suspensions and the like.”

Drafting the rule figures to be complicated.

“Does

it include at every base or just home plate?” Baltimore manager Buck

Showalter said. “What’s considered blocking the plate and how do you

define all of it?”

The NCAA instituted a rule on collisions for

the 2011 season, saying “contact above the waist that was initiated by

the base runner shall not be judged as an attempt to reach the base or

plate.” The umpire can call the runner out and also eject the player if

contact is determined to be malicious or flagrant.

The rule is

likely to have an effect on youth leagues, too, where player safety is a

primary concern. Little League runners must either slide or try to get

around fielders. Plate collisions often are prohibited in high school

ball.

“The actual detail, frankly, the kinds of plays that we’re

trying to eliminate, we haven’t finely determined,” Alderson said. “I

would expect to put together 100 of these plays and identify which ones

we want to continue to allow and others that we want to prohibit, and

draft a rule accordingly.”