Dear Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association…
First and foremost I want to commend both MLB and the MLBPA for recognizing that major steps needed to be taken to protect the well being of both the catcher and baserunner in regards to home plate collisions. With the daunting injuries we have seen over the past few years and the ever growing information about the seriousness and long term effects of brain injuries, something had to be done to protect both the welfare of the players and the league. Unfortunately though, I am writing this letter because of grave concerns I have over new rule 7.13. I no doubt believe the rule was put into place with appropriate intent yet in reality the rule has potentially created an even more dangerous situation than we had before. Let me explain… Rule 7.13 reads “Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score.” My biggest issue is with the fact that the catcher CAN still block the plate with the baseball. Shockingly this is not any different from rules of the past. The catcher was never supposed to be allowed to block the plate without the baseball and so long as the catcher is still allowed to block the plate with the ball, violent collisions will continue to be a major part of the game.
In my opinion though, the most disturbing part of rule 7.13 is presented in the comments section. “The failure by the runner to make an effort to touch the plate, the runner’s lowering of the shoulder, or the runner’s pushing through with his hands, elbows or arms, would support a determination that the runner deviated from the pathway in order to initiate contact with the catcher in violation of Rule 7.13.”
Obviously everybody is concerned about the well being of the catcher and rightfully so. Yet with the rule as it reads above, the baserunner would be put in an incredibly vulnerable position. Believe it or not, lowering a shoulder or pushing off is the only line of defense that a runner has when colliding with a catcher that is stationary and loaded with the full arsenal of shin guards, chest protector and a mask. Therefore, if the catcher is in possession of the ball and blocking home plate, the baserunner has two options and both of them are ridiculously dangerous. 1) Slide into the catchers shin guards risking blowing out an ankle or knee. 2) Run into the catcher without lowering a shoulder or pushing off thus risking even greater carnage. Quite frankly, this is a recipe for disaster and could potentially cause career threatening or even life altering injuries.
Throughout my career that spanned parts of 11 big league season, whenever the catcher would have the ball before I arrived at home plate I would make it a point initiate contact and do everything in my power to dislodge the baseball. The results were generally not good. The collisions were ugly and I sent multiple catchers to the disabled list and even ended a catchers career while playing in the minor leagues. After my playing days, I transitioned into the media as an analyst and quickly realized how unnecessary and reckless collisions had become. Ultimately, there was a disturbing video that surfaced last season of a AA game in which Erie Seawolves 2nd baseman Brandan Douglas ran into Harrisburg Senators catcher Brian Jeroloman. The collision was so vicious that even though I was somebody that did nearly the same exact thing for years, I actually had to turn away. Jeroloman spent several days in the hospital and long term effects of that collision still remain to be seen. For me, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Immediately following that collision I started a one man campaign to eliminate collisions at home plate. I actually wrote an article on this website titled The Most Violent and Reckless Play in all of Sports detailing my experience with collisions and how and why Major League Baseball must take some sort of action before it’s too late and somebody is critically injured or even killed. Through my work within the media I also took every opportunity to denounce home plate collisions and raise awareness about the potential detrimental effects of not addressing the rule.
When word came out that a rule was actually going to be put into place to eliminate collisions I was ecstatic to say the least. Then when rule 7.13 was unveiled a few days ago I almost could not believe what I was reading. Not only were collisions not eliminated but essentially the runner was stripped of any sort of right to protect himself if a collision did occur. As the rule reads, so long as the catcher has the baseball the runner is screwed. Indecision is the worst possible thing an athlete can have in the full speed moment of competition, sadly rule 7.13 seemingly creates potential indecision on all ends.
For the sake of the safety of current and future players I recommend immediately putting into effect a rule that would make the catcher give the runner a lane to slide into home plate. The rule would then also make it mandatory for the baserunner to slide. It is a very simple change that will have no effect whatsoever on the overall integrity of the game yet would help prevent any sort of catastrophic injury still very possible under the current rule structure. I played four years of college baseball and I have worked extensively as a broadcaster within the college game as well. In that time there have been countless plays at home plate which are every bit as exciting as any play at the plate that has taken place in Major League Baseball. The barbaric nature of a rule that still allows ferocious collisions in this day and age of extensive head injuries in all sports is unacceptable. Please contact me if there is any way I can help facilitate the process.
Toward greater safety, success and enjoyment of this great game… Eric Byrnes