Phillies catchers begin adjusting to new collision rule

Carlos Ruiz. and Phillies catchers are adjusting to the new collision rules. Ruiz described the altered philosophy as tough. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Carlos Ruiz. and Phillies catchers are adjusting to the new collision rules. Ruiz described the altered philosophy as tough. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 27, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Lou Marson replayed the brutal crash again and again Tuesday morning for his Phillies teammates to evaluate. Tampa Bay's Desmond Jennings galloped toward Marson, then a Cleveland Indians catcher. Marson snared the throw from third base a second before Jennings planted his left forearm into Marson's mask.

"Marson is knocked for a loop, but he hangs on!" the broadcaster yelled. "Oh man. You want to talk about a block of concrete at home plate!"

Marson polled the group for a verdict. Moments before, some Phillies watched a TV report on Rule 7.13, an experimentation by Major League Baseball designed to ban egregious home-plate collisions. Marson missed 11 games because of a neck strain suffered last April from Jennings' blow, which contributed to shoulder ailments that later derailed his 2013 season.

"Do you think they would have called him safe with the new rule?" Marson asked. There was no consensus. But this was a textbook example of a now-banned play, given that Marson blocked the plate without the ball and Jennings did not deviate from his path.

"It was just one of those things that happened," Marson said. "I couldn't do anything about it. If I was giving him the plate, who knows if he would have slid? He's a guy who likes contact. He played football. A lot of guys like contact. I like it. It's part of the game."

On Tuesday, catchers across baseball started to digest a fundamental change to how they play. Giants catcher Buster Posey, whose 2011 season was cut short after a crash at the plate, approved of the rule.

"I've always said that the main thing is for everybody to be comfortable with it, that the catchers and runners are protected," said Posey, addressing the rule change for the first time, in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The official wording of the rule was released Monday, and coaches briefed the Phillies catchers on the basics a day later. Manager Ryne Sandberg planned drills, beginning Wednesday, to implement the rule.

Marson had a litany of questions, some of which will be raised Wednesday morning during a meeting with players union representatives, including new executive director Tony Clark.

Carlos Ruiz described the altered philosophy as "tough." He invoked the pride involved when a catcher survives a hit to help his team.

"And now, you give it away," Ruiz said. "It's weird for us. I know a lot of catchers got hurt."

Contact is not completely banned. It is a legal play if the catcher has the ball before blocking the plate and the runner does not abandon his direct pathway to the plate. There is, nonetheless, ambiguity in the wording that could burden umpires.

"In some ways, I'm old-school on that play at home plate," Sandberg said. "In other ways, I wouldn't want to lose my catcher for six months. When you're talking about frontline catchers, those are big pieces of the puzzle. They're very important. I've seen the baserunners go out of their way to put the catcher in harm. I agree with [banning] that. I understand the purpose of having a change."

Marson wondered if the baserunners - not catchers - are further exposed under the new guidelines.

"If I'm in the right position, they have more of a chance of getting hurt because I have my gear on," he said. "Guys are going to have to learn to slide."

Both Marson and Ruiz lamented the idea of undoing years of instruction. The implementation starts Wednesday with Grapefruit League action, and Marson professed confusion. He was not alone.

"If I catch the ball, am I allowed to block the plate with my shinguard that way?" Marson said. "Or do I have to tag him like an infielder? Or can he run me over once I get the ball? He can still run me over."

Marson pondered his run-in with Jennings from last April and arrived at a conclusion. "He has to be safe," Marson said. It is harder to accept this new reality.

"I didn't give him anywhere to slide," Marson said. "So if you asked him about the play, I think he did the right thing. It wasn't dirty."


mgelb@phillynews.com

@magelb

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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