LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) – Major League Baseball plans to eliminate home plate collisions, possibly as soon as next season but no later than by 2015.
New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, chairman of the rules committee, made the announcement Wednesday at the winter meetings. Player safety and concern over concussions were major factors in the decision.
“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.
“What are they going to do next, you can’t break up a double play?” Pete Rose said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “You’re not allowed to pitch inside. The hitters wear more armor than the Humvees in Afghanistan. Now you’re not allowed to be safe at home plate? What’s the game coming to? Evidently the guys making all these rules never played the game of baseball.”
Rose, banned for life in 1989 following a gambling investigation, famously bowled over catcher Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star game. Rose insists Fosse was blocking the plate without the ball, which is against the rules.
“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.”
Citing player safety, Alderson said wording of the rules change will be presented to owners for approval at their Jan. 16 meeting in Paradise Valley, Ariz.
“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.
Discussion to limit or ban collisions has intensified since May 2011, when San Francisco’s Buster Posey was injured by Florida’s Scott Cousins. Posey, an 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.
“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.”
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.
Former catchers Joe Girardi, Bruce Bochy and Mike Matheny — all of them 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 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 levels 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.”
But 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 can eject the player if contact is determined to be malicious or flagrant.
“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.”
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