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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Major League Baseball did not seek to eliminate all collisions at home plate with the ratification of Rule 7.13, executive vice president Joe Torre said on Monday. Only those that are “targeted” and “vicious.”
And yes, Torre said, those two words certainly apply to Scott Cousins’ hit on Buster Posey.
While stressing that the rule was subject to an umpires interpretation, Torre said if the events of May 25, 2011, were to play out this season, Cousins would have been called out, possibly ejected and subject to potential discipline including a fine and suspension.
“He just went right to (Posey),” Torre said. “And that’s against the rule. You have to go to the plate.”
Torre showed the Posey play during a PowerPoint presentation at Salt River Fields for managers, bench coaches and executives of seven clubs, including the Giants and A’s, on Monday. Most of the two-hour session was spent clarifying policies and procedures of expanded replay. But along with Tony La Russa, Joe Garagiola Jr., senior vice president Peter Woodfork and umpiring supervisor Steve Palermo, they addressed the collision rule as well.
The Posey play, when he fractured his leg and tore three ankle ligaments, was among those plastered on the theater screen.
Torre said Rule 7.13, approved by the Players’ Association earlier in the day, was described as experimental because “we’ll see if we need to do more or if this gets the job done. Our goal is to eliminate vicious hits for a baserunner (where) instead of targeting home plate he targets the catcher, like in the Posey case. There have been others but Posey got the most attention, obviously.”
Although no potential discipline was mentioned in the rule’s language or the news release, Torre said potential fines or suspensions “would be my call. … And he may get thrown out of the game if it’s a violent type of thing.”
Although the rule made it clear enough, Torre emphasized that the league wasn’t trying to legislate against all collision at the plate. A catcher could be forced to veer into the baseline to accept a throw,for example, or a runner could have no lane to the plate. Catchers still can set up in front of the dish when they have possession of the ball.
“We always said there may be inadvertent contact,” said Torre, adding that he has encouraged managers to instruct runners to slide whenever possible and for catchers to leave a piece of the plate.
Although runners aren’t required to slide, they would not be able to lead with their shoulder or make any other motion beyond what would be considered in the interests of self preservation.
“No forearms to the head,” La Russa said.
Torre and La Russa acknowledged that the replay aspect could be tricky. Managers will be able to use their challenge to have umpires review whether the runner was safe or out. But they can merely request a review on whether Rule 7.13 was violated. It will be the umpire’s call whether to review video evidence in those cases, just as they already did for disputed home run calls.
What happens when an umpire is asked to review the safe/out portion of the play and then determines the runner or catcher was in violation of Rule 7.13?
If that question occurred to you … well, you get a flavor for what it was like to be in the theater at the Colorado Rockies’ spring complex. Get a group of wizened baseball people in one room and you'll hear endless what-if scenarios. At least the managers and executives mostly held their questions to the end of the presentation this time, Torre said, smiling. It’s the sixth time he’s given it.
Regarding replay, many of the questions from club personnel have to do with timing, and how long managers will be allowed to issue a challenge. Torre said the league wanted to avoid any gamesmanship such as in football, when the offensive side races to get the next play off. Under MLB's policy, the previous play can be challenged until both sides are prepared to continue -- the pitcher is on the rubber and the hitter is in the batter’s box.
Is Torre confident that it will be a smooth transition?
“I’m confident in theory but I’m curious,” he said. “So many things could happen. Two teams could challenge the same play – a safe and an out call on a double play, for instance.”
The so-called “neighborhood” play, when a middle infielder dances across second base while turning the pivot, was deemed a safety issue by the union in negotiations and specifically excluded from replay review, Torre said.
After all, at a time when the league is trying to protect catchers, it makes little sense to raise the exposure level for second basemen and shortstops.
Torre didn’t always agree that catchers needed additional safeguards. He had to be convinced a year ago, when Cardinals manager Mike Matheny joined Giants manager Bruce Bochy to lobby for a rule change.
Torre understands now it was the right thing to do.
“I didn’t there was a way to do it,” Torre said. “I told Bochy, `Hey, bring me something that makes sense.’ During the course of the year, I got letters from parents in the minor leagues whose kids just got waffled, man. You begin to see more and more examples.
“Talking to Bochy and then to Matheny, who can’t account for 18 months of his life, that told me this is enough.”