Share This Page

Catchers, runners on collision course to change in MLB

| Monday, Feb. 24, 2014, 9:42 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Russell Martin takes a throw at home plate during drills Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Russell Martin holds onto the ball after colliding with the Cubs' Nate Schierholtz at home plate Sept. 23, 2013, at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates infielders Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and Jordy Mercer wind up to throw balls to first baseman Andrew Lambo during fielding drills Monday, Feb. 24, 2014, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla. Five players threw balls all at once to end the session with a laugh.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Francisco Liriano cleans his shoes after throwing a bullpen session Monday, Feb. 24, 2014, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates closer Jason Grilli delivers during a bullpen session Monday, Feb. 24, 2014, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates infielder Chase d'Arnaud works out Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla. The Pirates designated d'Arnaud for assignment on Monday.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Russell Martin talks with Manny Sanguillen between drills Monday, Feb. 24, 2014, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen signs autographs during a workout Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates closer Jason Grilli talks with pitching coach Ray Searage after pitching a bullpen session Monday, Feb. 24, 2014, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates infielder Gaby Sanchez fields a ground ball at third base in front of Pedro Alvarez during drills Monday, Feb. 24, 2014, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle talks with general manager Neal Huntington Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.

BRADENTON, Fla. — A few days ago during a spring training drill, Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez snagged a relay throw, then dropped to his knees at the plate as if to tag an imaginary baserunner.

Sanchez got up and playfully bumped Russell Martin, who was looking on while balanced on the balls of his feet in a catcher's crouch.

Caught off guard, Martin sprawled backward as his mask flew off into the dirt. Both catchers came up laughing at the joke.

In a perfect world, all home-plate collisions would be that harmless. However, there are plenty of players who've limped away from pileups with concussions, broken bones or torn ligaments.

Ray Fosse sustained a broken shoulder when Pete Rose slammed into him during the 1970 All-Star Game. Atlanta Braves catcher Johnny Estrada suffered from post-concussion syndrome for years after being rammed by Darin Erstad in 2005.

In 2011, San Francisco Giants star Buster Posey snapped his leg and tore up his knee in a crash with Scott Cousins of the Miami Marlins. Posey's agent later asked MLB to strengthen its rules about collisions at the plate.

In December, MLB said it would tweak the rules to increase protection for runners and catchers, and began working with the players' union on changes. The new system — which will be used on an experimental basis in 2014 — was announced Monday, in plenty of time for spring training games to get under way in Florida and Arizona.

A runner may not deviate from his “direct pathway to the plate” in order to initiate a collision with either the catcher or another player covering the plate. And, unless he is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the path of the runner trying to score.

At the umpire's discretion, instant replay may be used to determine if the catcher offered a clear lane and/or if the runner executed a clean slide.

“They want runners to slide, and they want catchers to give a lane so runners can slide,” Martin said. “They want to eliminate somebody going out of his way or changing his direction to hit somebody. If the flight of the ball is taking me in to the lane of the runner and he runs into me, that's unavoidable contact. You can tell. Even with that, they don't want somebody throwing a forearm at somebody's head.”

Utilityman Josh Harrison said spring training is the perfect time for players to get familiar with the new rules and perhaps break baserunning habits. In 2012, Harrison crashed into St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, who sustained upper back, neck and shoulder strains.

“I don't think guys are out there head-hunting,” Harrison said. “But when it's a play where you have no place else to go because the catcher is in the way, (a collision) is your natural reaction. Our mindset will have to change when plays are close. Same with the catchers. It will be an adjustment for us all.”

Over the past few days, MLB officials met with managers and coaches from every team to explain its proposals to increase safety for catchers and baserunners. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle had his meeting Sunday afternoon.

The rule changes were approved by team owners and the players' union, in consultation with the World Umpires Association, in Port Charlotte, Fla.

“They took a detailed look at what really creates the injuries,” Pirates owner Bob Nutting said. “They want to make sure we never lose the heart, spirit and competitiveness of the game. I have a lot of faith in their judgement.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.