Sunday, June 2, 2024

Pham's Slide into Contreras - Legal or Collision Violation?

White Sox baserunner Tommy Pham slid into Brewers catcher William Contreras on a play at the plate as Milwaukee cut down Chicago's tying run. In an era when we simply don't see much runner-catcher contact thanks to the home plate collision rule, we review Pham's slide for legality. Had Pham not been tagged out by Contreras, would HP Umpire Edwin Jimenez (or Replay Review) have called Pham out anyway, for a violation of this rule?

Official Baseball Rule 6.01(i)(1), titled Collisions at Home Plate, pertains to the runner's actions at home plate. Although most of these plays end up resulting in discussions concerning OBR 6.02(i)(2), which is the home plate collision rule for catchers/other fielders covering the plate, this is one of the seldom-seen instances where we discuss whether or not the runner was illegal.

OBR 6.01(i)(1) states, "A runner attempting to score may not deviate from their direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher, or otherwise initiate an avoidable collision. If, in the judgment of the umpire, a runner attempting to score initiates contact with the catcher in such a manner, the umpire shall declare the runner out (regardless of whether the catcher maintains possession of the ball)."

Ordinarily when adjudicating the catchers' legality in OBR 6.01(i)(2), we cite fair and foul territory, as when the catcher cedes the runner foul territory, the catcher is most likely legal because prior to the ball's arrival, generally speaking, the catcher is entitled to play in fair territory while the runner is entitled to slide in foul territory.

For this play, runner R3 Pham takes a direct route into fair territory—on the infield grass even—before directly sliding into catcher Contreras, and not into home plate, which is freely available to him, including the entirety of the foul line extended as well as foul territory on the left field side.

By rule, this is an illegal slide by Pham and, had Contreras not held onto the baseball, he would be out for a home plate collision rule violation.

Although this was the third out of the inning, had there been fewer outs, the tail end of OBR 6.01(i)(1) would apply to trailing runners: "the umpire shall call the ball dead, and all other base runners shall return to the last base touched at the time of the collision."


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