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Should catchers be banned from blocking home plate?

May 26, 2011, 8:45 AM EDT

Posey injury 2.bmp

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.

107 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. explodet - May 26, 2011 at 3:20 PM

    Change the rules all the want, catchers are just going to keep on blocking the plate regardless.

    • victorpf - May 26, 2011 at 8:13 PM

      Runners should not be allowed to run into the catcher regardless if he is blocking the plate or not. The runner should be called out and suspended if trying to cause bodily harm. This is another case of a catcher [see Rose vs. Fosse] being unnecessarily injured. No one else is allow to be run into. The catcher has some protection but not body armor.

      • victorpf - May 26, 2011 at 8:15 PM

        sorry, ‘allowed’

      • cvjim - May 28, 2011 at 11:21 PM

        No one else is allowed to be run into? have you ever seen someone barrel into the SS/2B trying to break up a double play? Baseball IS a contact sport. If the catcher is going to and block the plate, even partially, then he knows the risk. The same goes for the runner… he has an equal chance of getting injured when running into the catcher and knows the risk. The catcher’s job is to prevent the run, the runner is trying to score… best man wins.

    • gr8fuldaniel - May 29, 2011 at 10:34 PM

      Posey didn’t block the plate.

      His attacker had a 90 foot running start at him and veered directly at Posey when he had a straight shot at the plate to the right of him.

      The title of this article does not apply to the situation.

    • gr8fuldaniel - May 29, 2011 at 10:38 PM

      If he were blocking the plate, then yes, by all means, plaster him.
      Take another look at the picture above.

  2. schmedley69 - May 26, 2011 at 7:33 PM

    Definitely no rule change. It’s a part of the game. There are plenty of ways that players get hurt in baseball. Do you make a rule change every time someone gets injured? There is no way to enforce this rule. Injuries are gonna happen, and catchers are more likely to get injured than most other players.

    One of the plays that made me fall in love with baseball as a 9-year old kid was when Dave Parker threw a laser from RF to Gary Carter who tagged out the runner at the plate in the 1979 All Star Game. If Buster Olney had his way, great plays like that would never happen.

  3. aronmantoo - May 26, 2011 at 8:01 PM

    I see no reason to change the rule these are catchers not quartebbacks

    • mdak06 - May 29, 2011 at 4:54 PM

      Quarterbacks have much more protection than catchers, and catchers are being hit as hard if not harder than quarterbacks. How does that make sense?

    • gr8fuldaniel - May 29, 2011 at 10:36 PM

      They are every bit as important as a QB. The Catcher and Pitcher share equal value. Attack any other player and you get ejected. Time for a rule adjustment

  4. baseballpackrat - May 26, 2011 at 8:29 PM

    Your kidding right? Should baseball ban walk-off Homerun celebrations as well, sliding into the shortstop, sliding head first into a base, and banging into the fence. It is part of the game.

  5. slickman313 - May 26, 2011 at 9:13 PM

    I have no issue with base runners knocking over the catcher to score, if the catcher is blocking the plate. This was not the case with Posey. The right side of the plate was open, and yet Cousins completely ignored this fact. Cousins deserves to be fined and suspended for a blatant disrespect to a player on the oppossing team. He deserves to have both of his legs broken. I hope he remembers what comes around goes around.

    • cvjim - May 28, 2011 at 11:24 PM

      That’s BS… Maybe Cousins that he was going to be out (it was a very short fly ball) and figured his only way to score was to knock the ball loose. If he didn’t want contact, Posey should have been out in front of the plate – even partially blocking the plate means you may have to go through the catcher to do your job – score.

      • natters3206 - May 31, 2011 at 1:30 AM

        … He was in front of the plate. http://www.csnbayarea.com/gallery_images/7879_144566.jpg

  6. mike105451 - May 27, 2011 at 1:03 AM

    Bang, bang play – both players were right the way the rules are written….. Cousins didn’t know if Posey had the ball, but it was on it’s way. Posey thought he had the ball and knew the runner was close, too…. It’s baseball, guys, and ladies – that’s the way the rules are written. I don’t think either player wanted to hurt the other. If ya wanna play tennis, that ball doesn’t hurt so much…….

  7. woohooey - May 27, 2011 at 4:59 PM

    There’s nothing in the rules that allows for these kinds of plays at the plate. No runner can run into a fielder to intentionally dislodge the ball. That includes catchers. There’s no specific ‘catcher munching is ok’ rule. No fielder can block the base path of the runner without the ball. That includes catchers. Really a fielder don’t need to block a base with their body even when they have the ball. The runner has a right to the basepath. Somewhere in time the shin plates got good enough, some catcher had no fear of plopping it down early in front of a sliding runner. And instead of calling the runner automatically safe because of that..we now have catcher derby. This whole munch at the plate has just been a contrivance of modern baseball…it is very much in fact ‘illegal’ and a random exercise of the interference rules by the umps. Sort of like ghost tags at second, ‘close enough’ barrel rolls at second on double plays, balk calls, and so on. It’s lazy. If we like cheap hits on exposed players, we have NFL secondary…if we want random acts of thuggery in your sport, we have hockey. These aren’t ‘hard nosed’ baseball plays, they are actually rules violations, and, often, plain ol’ cheap shots…umps just overlook it. A close play at the plate is exciting because a run is in the balance…close plays at any base are exciting. You don’t need one guy steamrolling over another to make it exciting for you. I think they call that sadism.
    The hit on Posey was not extreme one way or the other as those things go..yes without it happening, he’d be fine, but there was a lot of bad luck there also. The issue at hand is: when’s the last time you saw a runner called safe due to a catcher blocking early? Or a runner called out for trying to dislodge the ball from a catcher? Major league umps are not doing their job. Anyway, it’s not even an opinion thing when it comes to obstruction/interference..them’s the rules. Baseball would actually need a rule change to ALLOW these kinds of plays, if that becomes the consensus. I know there’ll be a lot more stolen bases by big slow guys if they can just wax any given fielder as needed.

  8. natters3206 - May 31, 2011 at 1:28 AM

    I may not know the rules well enough, but I feel like if the catcher is completely in front of the plate blocking the runner from scoring then he knows the risk he is putting himself into and its the runners job to try and score a run for the team regardless of whether or not a catcher is standing in their way. However, if the catcher is not in foul territory and thus not blocking the plate I don’t think the runner should be able to get in a collision with them. For that reason the Posey/Cousins play upset me, Buster wasn’t in foul territory and wasn’t blocking the plate and he still got seriously injured. It would be nice if a rule change could prevent these kinds of unnecessary injuries, I just don’t know that any rule is going to keep these guys from running each other over in the name of baseball. =/

  9. woohooey - May 31, 2011 at 1:07 PM

    I think the grey area of ‘if’ the plate is blocked ‘then’ it’s okay to steamroll is what’s gotten it where it is. Now the runner more often than not feels that the closer the play, the more it ensures he’s going to plow, regardless of the catcher’s exact position, because it has been deemed ‘okay.’ In other words, there is no real assumption of a slide or avoidance there. I truly can’t remember the last time I saw a call otherwise. I mean, even if the catcher is straddling the plate or coming in from one side, or even BEHIND the plate a bit sometimes I’ve seen…you watch them get hit when the runner thinks he’s gonna be out and is then trying to dislodge the ball. He’s not even thinking about a slide headfirst, feetfirst, hookslide, whatever..he’s gonna try his last resort. I agree, that seemed to be the case on the Posey play also.

    I guess in an alternative scenario, what would happen if a first or third baseman stood in front of the bag and didn’t let anyone pass? Sure, he might get run over the first or second time, or the runner having to go noticeably out of his way to not run into him…but the ump would ensure it didn’t become a regular thing. I tell you, there is a ‘human instinct’ to want to run into the first baseman a bit when the the batter hits some little dribbler and knows he’s toast. The fact that there AREN’T more collisions at first base shows exactly how easy it is to regulate in MLB, both by the umps and players themselves. Or, for example, steals of second..if the runner was going to be out by half a step, sure, allowing him to ram into the fielder or slide hard into the baseman’s planted legs by the base gives runner one more opportunity to be safe (and vent his frustration)..but it’s not allowed, and thus you never see it happen. Same should be true for the catcher. I think if they did away with the iffiness and just called it like they do other obstruction/interference judgments, it would fix itself surprisingly quickly.

    Already, it’s not legal for a runner to slam into a fielder to intentionally disrupt a play. So we could start there. No contact with the catcher other than the unintentional kind of thing that happens when, say, someone goes into second and gets tangled up with the baseman briefly after their slide. For the most part it’s always pretty easy to tell if/when either of the players have overstepped the rules there, right? Okay, so now we’ve cracked down on the catcher bashing. Now all even the laziest of umps needs to do is deem whether the catcher blocked the plate at all early and didn’t give the runner his fair line into the base. That really does not seem a hard call to make as far as baseball judgments go..heck, even easier than a lot of ‘em they have. In fact, if it’s still too hard for them for whatever reason, use the glove..if the catcher does any sort of body tag or blocking, which they do a lot right now, before he tags with the glove/ball, runner is safe. No other fielder gets to push the runner off the base and then tag him. It seems pretty straightforward…mostly because the rules are upheld in other such instances on the basepaths, and the rights and wrongs of even bang-bang plays seem to be readily understood. Players understand them. Umps understand them. Fans understand them. At first it maybe seems like it’d take a while to change a mindset that’s been around a while…sort of the easiness of status quo. But I bet this particular thing would actually change pretty fast after just a few calls are made, and baseball would be better off for it. I for one don’t know why they’ve let plays at the plate get to the point it has. It wouldn’t be stood for long anywhere else on the field, either by umps or players.

    • natters3206 - May 31, 2011 at 11:01 PM

      You don’t feel like that would change the game as a whole too much? I believe that the injuries are frustrating and could be avoided but it seems like that big of a rule change (because it is at home) would affect the way the game is played. It just seems like catchers doing everything they can to not let the run score and runners doing everything they can to score the run is a big part of baseball. Its probably not worth it in the long run at all but it is still a big part of the game I think. But I could be wrong, we will have to wait and see how baseball responds.

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