Now that the Major League Baseball Rules Committee has voted to outlaw collisions at home plate, the question hanging over the sport is how it’s going to be enforced.
Runners will be required to slide into home plate, not initiate contact with the catcher. And catchers no longer will be permitted to block the plate.
Runners must be given a path to the plate, just as fielders do at any base. Catchers must tag them instead of impersonating a brick wall.
This movement gained steam after Giants catcher Buster Posey sustained a broken leg and torn ankle ligaments after a violent collision with the Marlins’ Scott Cousins back in 2011, ending his season in May. I guess Pete Rose removing the fillings from Ray Fosse’s teeth 41 years earlier didn’t elicit as much outrage and sympathy.
Orioles bench coach and catching instructor John Russell said he likes “the concept.”
“A lot of times, you’re so defenseless,” said Russell, a major league catcher for 10 seasons. “I know when I caught, and I know watching Matt (Wieters) and he’s got run over, you get in a very defenseless position. The old school says it’s part of the game, but you’re in such a defenseless position. Now, how we’re going to be able to enforce that, I don’t know.
“You say, ‘Well, they can’t block the plate.’ Well, what’s blocking the plate? Do you have to give him the whole plate? Do you give him half the plate? If he slides into you and you blocked him, does that mean you blocked the plate? If he rolls or whatever? It’s going to be such a judgment call. And then they say, ‘Well, it’s going to be reviewable.’ What do you review? I don’t know. I don’t know how they’re going to really lock it in to enforce it.”
Russell already has talked to Wieters about the rule and they’re equally curious and confused.
“Is it going to be where, well, if the baserunner makes contact in that way, is he going to say the catcher was blocking the plate, so now they get a run out of it where he was out?” Russell asked. “Is he going to make the baserunner make more contact than he would before, saying the catcher is blocking the plate. I don’t know. How are you going to enforce it? I know they’re throwing a lot of ideas around. I’m anxious to hear what they’re going to come up with in the long run.
“I want Matt to be able to catch every day. If he gets pummeled at home plate on a cheap shot, which he has already a couple times in the last few years, I don’t want that to end his season or put him out for two or three weeks. So I think it’s a great concept. I’d like to see a little bit more in-depth how they’re going to enforce it.”
Expanded replay also leaves Russell filled with questions.
In the past, manager Buck Showalter has relied on Russell to quickly check the video on a controversial play to determine whether to prolong the argument.
“Buck will ask me to go look,” Russell said. “A lot of times, a player will give a little more of an emotional answer and it’s not always an answer you’re looking for, so I try to keep the perspective of it. Hey, did he get it right or did he not? That’s the bottom line and that’s what Buck wants.”
How does the expanded replay affect the Orioles’ system?
“I really don’t know how that’s going to work,” Russell said. “Buck and I have talked about it. Do you have somebody you can get a hold of real quickly? Are they going to have to sit down by the dugout so you can ask real quickly? Are you going to have to run upstairs every time and try to look at a call before they go review it? I don’t know. It’s going to be tough.
“I think it’s a great idea. The more you can review, the better, but without slowing the game down. It’s almost like football when you throw a flag. You want to be sure. They get it in the headset from upstairs. ‘Hey, challenge this call because it’s wrong or it looks wrong.’ I don’t know how we’re really going to be able to perfect that. We’ll find a way, knowing Buck. We’ll find a way to do it.
“It may be going down the steps real quick and finding somebody. We’re going to have to find out what the parameters are from the league, what’s going to be allowed, what’s not going to be allowed. Is it just going to be allowed from behind the dugout? So, we’ll have to do some research on it. But you guys know Buck. We’re going to figure out a system that’s going to be as sufficient and quick as it possibly can.”
While meeting with reporters at FanFest, Russell was asked whether the Orioles need to make more acquisitions, or does he believe they can challenge for a playoff spot again as presently constructed.
“I think every team looks at acquisitions,” Russell said. “They look at, ‘Well, can we go get this guy and that guy?’ The bottom line is, you have to have that team we’ve had the last few years that goes out every day and competes. We’ve got very good athletes, we’ve got very good players. There’s great team chemistry. Just by saying ‘adding people’ is not always the quick Band Aid that we need.
“What we’ve developed and what Buck has developed over the past few years is a clubhouse, a bench and how we play the game with talented players, of course. It shows. And I think that’s one of our strengths, probably our biggest strength. So me as a coach, I like what we have. I love the players. I get to work with one of the best catchers in baseball. We’ve got one of the best defenses in baseball. So looking at the people coming in, it doesn’t really look, in my eyes, that the more we add the better we’re going to get. A lot of times, that’s not really the way it works.
“I think going in with what we have, we’ve had a lot of guys develop. I feel pretty confident when you look out on the field, and I know Buck does, too, you look on the field and look at the players we have out there, it’s a pretty good ballclub. We competed in the American League East for two years very competitively. It’s a tough division. We know that, but we’ve got the team. We haven’t backed down from anybody and I don’t see us doing that this year.”
It seems inevitable that the Orioles will add at least one pitcher. Even if they sign Korean right-hander Suk-min Yoon, they’d still be in the market for a starter. He isn’t the proven innings-eater that they’re seeking to pair with Chris Tillman at the top of the rotation.