PEORIA, Ariz. – John Buck knows the exact moment when baseball’s thinking changed about home-plate collisions. He was standing 50 feet away when it happened on May 25, 2011.
On Monday, that thinking led to a major change in how the game will be played. Major League Baseball announced a rule change for a one-year experimental basis that effectively bans home-plate collisions
Rule 7.13 is a complicated way of saying that a base runner must make an attempt to touch the plate by trying to slide. If a runner lowers his shoulder or uses his hands, elbows or arms to make contact with the catcher, he would be in violation and ruled out.
Also as part of that rule, a catcher cannot block the pathway of a runner attempting to score if he does not have the ball. If he does, an umpire will rule the runner safe.
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Rule 7.13 could easily be known as the Buster Posey rule because it was his unfortunate incident that led to the change.
Buck can still see it play out.
It was chilly Bay Area night at AT&T Park, Buck, then a member of the Miami Marlins, was in the on-deck circle when teammate Scott Cousins barreled over Posey at home while tagging up on a sacrifice fly to right field.
Posey got the throw from Nate Schierholtz well in advance and blocked the plate as he was taught. Cousins did as he was taught and lowered his shoulder, smashing into Posey. The collision knocked Posey backward with his left leg trapped underneath of him. Posey’s ankle bent awkwardly under his weight and the pressure of the collision led to a gruesome fracture of his fibula and torn ligaments in his ankle.
Buck, who had endured his share of pummelings in his career, cringed as Posey screamed in agony and lived out every catcher’s worst nightmare.
“I felt it in the on-deck circle,” Buck said. “In my opinion, I don’t think it was dirty. But like I said, there are different interpretations from three or four different angles. What we are trying to do, whether it’s dirty or not, is to eliminate that particular play.”
If Rule 7.13 was in place then, Cousins would have had to try to slide or just give himself up.
Buck can see the value in that.
“In that instance, both players leave healthy,” Buck said. “But with the way that it happened, Buster ends up breaking his ankle and Scott hurts his shoulder for a run. It’s trying to make the game safer, but also not jeopardize the integrity of it.”
As the Mariners’ player representative in the union, Buck has worked closely in the decision. MLB sent out highlights trying to outline the situations.
“One of the things that we said is that it is confusing,” Buck said. “Even when you watch the video, it is confusing. I’m in the meetings and talking on the phone with the players union and MLB; it’s still confusing for me and I’m involved in it.”
Buck was not a huge proponent of the change. He wanted to have a committee, like in football, that would review collisions, look for malicious intent and then level heavy fines. But after listening to Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, who was also against the rule at first, describe some of the effects from his multiple concussions caused by collisions, Buck has softened his stance.
“It’s hard not to give it some thought, which I have,” Buck said. “But hearing Matheny made me a little more open to it. He brought up some points I hadn’t really thought of.”
Mariners catcher Mike Zunino is trying to understand the rule. He’s been leaning on Buck for answers.
“There is definitely some gray area,” Zunino said. “We’ve had a lot of questions come up that we want to get clear so when that time comes in a game, we do everything the right way.”
Zunino will have to relearn everything he was taught about taking the plate away from runners.
“You’re supposed to get to that front corner, point your toe down the third-base line so if there is a collision that left foot can give out and your knee is in a safe spot,” he said. “Now, I don’t know if we just have to move up 4 to 6 inches and give them a little more.”
The play at the plate is one of the most difficult for a catcher. Zunino doesn’t want to be thinking about whether he is in accordance with the new rule as it’s happening. He just wants to learn it and practice it to the point it becomes second nature.
“I think that’s the toughest thing to break because everything we’ve been doing up until now, getting our body in the right position, is instinctual because we’ve done it so much,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing is we have to do enough reps now to get to that point where we don’t have to think about it in games.”
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373 or email@example.com. On Twitter: @RyanDivish