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Starkey: The stupidest rule in sports

| Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, 9:45 p.m.
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Reds baserunner Zack Cozart reacts after begging tagged out by Marlins catcher Jeff Mathis during the eighth inning Thursday, July 31, 2014, at Marlins Park in Miami.

I hate Rule 7.13.

It's the silliest rule in sports. Sillier than allowing a timeout amid a loose-ball scrum in basketball, assessing an extra penalty for blood on the face in hockey and even the grandaddy of 'em all — permitting sportswriters to invoke a “morality clause” on their Baseball Hall of Fame ballots.

I've known plenty of sportswriters, and I can tell you this: If a morality clause were tied to attaining press credentials, about three people would cover the World Series every year.

The basic problem with Rule 7.13 is that nobody understands it. At least not in its practical applications. Players don't. Managers don't. Umpires don't. Replay officials don't. Announcers don't. Fans don't. The media don't.

In essence, Rule 7.13 states that a runner cannot deviate from his lane to smash the catcher, and the catcher cannot block the plate without the ball. Which is wonderful until you have real players going full speed.

You might know Rule 7.13 as “The Buster Posey Rule.” That is part of the problem. Give a listen to one of the great plate-blockers of all time, former Pirates catcher Ed Ott, on this topic. Because he's right.

“If Posey hadn't been hurt, and it was Ed Ott who'd been hurt (or some other anonymous catcher), there wouldn't be any rule,” Ott told me Saturday.

That's no knock on Posey, a great player who suffered a horrific leg injury in 2011. And the desire to protect catchers — concussions can be an issue, too — is well intended. But it's just not feasible.

The play at home was not meant to be legislated.

It's too complicated.

Did you catch the latest Rule 7.13 fiasco? It happened Thursday when a throw beat Cincinnati's Zack Cozart by approximately two time zones. Miami catcher Jeff Mathis caught the ball. Cozart ran wide. Mathis tagged him. Home-plate umpire Mike Winters made the obvious out call.

This precipitated The Winters of Our Discontent — at least on Miami's side — after the umpire was told to reverse his ruling following a review of 6 minutes, 10 seconds.

Any rule that precipitates a six-minute review should be trashed. Of course, this is the same rule that required the dissemination of “training materials” in order to comprehend in the first place.

Part of the dense verbiage in Rule 7.13 states that “it shall not be considered a violation if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in order to field a throw.”

OK, go back to the Cozart play, where Mathis was called for blocking the plate without the ball. Tell me for sure the throw did not put Mathis in the runner's path. Where was Mathis supposed to catch the ball? Was he supposed to run out, cut it off and relay it to himself?

This rule is so utterly absurd that it had to be reworded on the fly when Pirates catcher Russell Martin was cited for blocking the plate ON A FORCE PLAY.

Here's another issue: Runners now find themselves in awkward and vulnerable positions because they do not know what to do (see Cozart) when approaching home plate. Once they figure out that running into the catcher remains legal and perhaps their best option if the pathway is blocked, you will see collisions.

Cozart, for example, would have been well within his rights to plow Mathis. On another controversial play this season, Philadelphia's Ryan Howard — who isn't small — could have legally ruined Miguel Montero but chose not to.

All of which leads to a question: Were home-plate collisions really that big of an issue? Ott managed to live through more than 50, mostly through proper technique (something he says Posey did not exhibit in 2011). Ott says catchers don't learn blocking technique anymore because collisions are outlawed at many levels.

Ott coaches in the Independent Can-Am League, where collisions are legal.

“That was the best part of my game,” Ott said, laughing. “I liked collisions. That was my way of giving back to my teammates. I don't think I could play nowadays.”

I don't know. Maybe guys like Ed Ott and myself are just getting old. We liked it when players ran out ground balls, ran into walls, broke up double plays and, yes, crashed into home plate. That's one of the reasons I enjoy watching Josh Harrison so much. He's old school. He actually tries to avoid getting tagged in rundowns. Imagine that.

Thankfully, Rule 7.13 will be reviewed after the season. If the league and union aren't smart enough to kill it, they might as well go the Wiffle Ball route: Throw to the pitcher before the runner reaches home and the runner's out.

Or use ghost runners. Or maybe cover the players in bubble wrap.

I hate Rule 7.13.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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