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Runners and Catchers: A Modest Proposal

October 2, 2007
By: KJ

In 1970 the best of the best gathered in Cincinnati for an All Star Game few would forget. The date was July 14, 1970 and the competitive spirit was in the air. Jim Hickman drives a pitch to right field in the Ninth for the home National League team. Cincinnati Red Pete Rose sprung from his lead on second base as the ball made its way to the right fielder. As Rose scurried around third, given the green light by Leo Derocher who was coaching third, Amos Otis fielded the ball and made the throw. Pete Rose then left a statement that took its toll on American League catcher Ray Fosse. In his Charlie Hustle style, Rose scored the winning run for N.L and after barreling into Fosse managed to dislocate Fosse's shoulder leaving structural damage that remains to this day. In a similar close play at the plate, San Diego Padres catcher Michael Barrett was fielding a ball and blocked the plate with his foot. Matt Holliday came in for the slide and was called safe by Plate umpire Tim McClelland. The problem is that replays seem to show that Holliday never touched home. This interesting scenario has got me thinking and I have a modest proposal to make.

First, in order to make a judgment on the Barrett/Holliday play the rules must be clearly established. The pertinent section of the MLB rules state, “when the ball is not dead on obstruction and an obstructed runner advances beyond the base which, in the umpire’s judgment, he would have been awarded because of being obstructed, he does so at his own peril and may be tagged out. This is a judgment call. 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 has led some commentators to argue for instant replay in plays involving home plate. I, on the other hand think there is a solution that does not need to go that far.

In order for an official ruling to be overturned in the major sports, there must be some type of indisputable evidence. In this case, such video evidence is not available so it would not matter anyway. So, I propose that the best way to prevent these situations in the future is to make a clear the rules defining the subject. The rules allow catchers to block the plate if he has the ball or is in the process of fielding the ball. This rule is much to ambiguous and creates unnecessary debate. Therefor, I ask Sandy Alderson and the MLB rules committee to change the rule to only allow the catcher to block the plate if and only if he has the ball in his possession. This is the only fair way to settle this. The catcher should not have the right to the base if he cannot make a tag, which would require him to have the ball.

At the beginning of this article I brought up Ray Fosse and Pete Rose. This is because, there should be a compromise to protect catchers. Just as the catcher should not be allowed to block home plate without the ball, he should not be put in danger by a base runner. So, I also propose that runners should not be allowed to run into the catcher as Rose did and as AJ Pierzynski did to Barrett earlier in the season. This provides a mutual sense of safety and a much greater equality between runners and catchers. So, let's admit that the rule is wrong and begin to pick up the pieces while learning from past mistakes.

KJ can be contacted at kjcity520@yahoo.com
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