Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Little Home Plate Collision Begets Wrigley Bench Clearing

Several seasons since MLB's introduction of home plate collision/blocking Rule 6.01(i), collisions between catchers and runners are virtually a thing of the past—almost.

Benches cleared at Wrigley Field on Tuesday.
Chicago Cubs catcher Victor Caratini and Miami Marlins baserunner Derek Dietrich were the center of attention in the 4th inning when the NL foes came together in one of the only situations under which a collision at home is still legal.

The Play: With one out and one on (R2), Marlins batter Lewis Bronson singled to Cubs left fielder Ben Zobrist, who threw to catcher Caratini as baserunner Dietrich approached home plate. Replays indicate Caratini fielded Zobrist's throw and stood in the baseline between home and third in order to tag Dietrich, who ran into Caratini as he stepped on home plate.

The Call: HP Umpire Will Little properly declared Dietrich out on Caratini's tag as the two players unsporting pleasantries, resulting in a bench-clearing incident; no personnel from either team were ejected.

Collision Rule for Runners: Rule 6.01(i)(1) states, "A runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate), or otherwise initiate an avoidable collision," with its comment further clarifying, "If a catcher blocks the pathway of the runner, the umpire shall not find that the runner initiated an avoidable collision in violation of this Rule 6.01(i)(1)."

Caratini and Dietrich's was a legal collision.
Collision Rule for Catchers: Rule 6.01(i)(2) states, "Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score," with its comment further clarifying, "A catcher shall not be deemed to have violated Rule 6.01(i)(2) unless he has both blocked the plate without possession the ball (or when not in a legitimate attempt to field the throw), and also hindered or impeded the progress of the runner attempting to score."

SIDEBAR: Though the Rules Committee has had several years to amend 6.01(i)(2) to apply to fielders other than catchers (e.g., a pitcher who covers home plate on wild pitch/pass ball, or any other fielder making a play at home plate), this rule remains unchanged. Therefore, it is reasonable to surmise this rule only applies to catchers and not other fielders, who remain subject to the standard rules and guidelines pertaining to obstruction. We've been on this one since 2014, when MLB allowed a HP Collision review over a play in which a pitcher blocked a runner's access to home plate (the result of which confirmed that the catcher didn't violate the rule—that was the actual language of the decision, that the "catcher" didn't violate the rule).
Related PostMLB Instant Replay Review 618: Mike Everitt (04) (6/28/14).

Again, the spirit of the rule would have this restriction apply to any player covering home, but because the Rules Committee has left the language alone since 2014 and the official Interpretations Manual does not address it, a team that loses an out and prevented run due to a 6.01(i)(2) call on a player other than the catcher would have an excellent basis for protesting the game. If Baseball wants to close this protest loophole, it would be wise to issue an interpretation and/or change the language of its rule 6.01(i)(2).

Legal HP Collision: Accordingly, a collision between catcher and runner shall be legal on both accounts (both provisions (1) and (2)) if the runner maintains a direct pathway to the plate and collides with a catcher who has possession of the ball or is in the act of legitimately attempting to field the throw.

That is precisely what happened here, which makes this collision entirely legal, Little's out call correct, the bench clearing afterward much ado about nothing.


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