Buster Posey’s awful injury last night has set off the calls for some reform — or some something — regarding how catchers handle the play at the plate. This morning another Buster — Olney — tweeted the following:
In the big-picture question of risk/reward, the play of blocking home plate, to save one run, is just not worth it. Not even close … MLB and the Players Association should step in and ban the play of a catcher blocking home. It’s just not worth it, for anyone involved.
I sympathize, but actually, there already is a rule against it. It’s Rule 7.06, which deals with obstruction of base runners. Specifically: you can’t. The comment to the rule speaks specifically to catchers and the plate. It says the following:
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.
This is roundly ignored, of course, as catchers routinely block the plate without the ball. The key question here is what constitutes “fielding the ball.” Are you fielding the ball if your body is blocking the plate, the ball is bouncing toward you, 20 feet away and you’re half looking at it, half at the runner? How close should the ball be? It’s an area so gray and so subject to judgment calls that I don’t know how it can be enforced more strictly without all manner of madness.
And let’s be clear here: no change in the rule would have altered the play that injured Posey. Watch it again. While he didn’t catch the ball, the ball is to him and he’s turning to make the tag, thinking he has the ball, before Cousins makes it to the plate. In my view he wasn’t blocking the plate in a way that would offend even the most restrictive interpretation of Rule 7.06.
The better question — asked by Dave Brown of Big League Stew — is whether base runners should be allowed to barrel into catchers regardless. I think that’s a much better question, as I seriously don’t like to see the kinds of collisions we often see at home plate. My only problem is this: how do you ban it? The runner does have an absolute right to the plate, so you can’t easily make a rule saying “if the catcher is there with the ball, stop.” It seems like it would turn into some kind of judgment call in which whether the runner used an unreasonable amount of roughness or force is examined. That’s football stuff. And of course, it would soon turn into a debate about what kinds of slides or “slides” are acceptable and what kind are not.
I would hope that runners wouldn’t try to steamroll catchers because I hate that play. I would also hope that catchers wouldn’t block the plate when they don’t have the ball. In this instance, however, I am having a hard time seeing how it isn’t a matter of, hell, bad things happening, and I’m not sure any workable rule prevents it.