The fear was ever so real, terrifying the men who stood to be criticized when the spotlight shined brightest.

They could see the situation lurking, ready to embarrass the game when pitches, plays and outcomes matter the most—in October.

Major League Baseball, finally realizing how preposterous the interpretation of its rule was and that it could come back to chomp the league in the playoffs, did the right thing and clarified Rule 7.13, better known as the home plate collision rule.

For the most part, at least.

The league did not change the wording of the rule, but it sent an email to all 30 teams Tuesday, according to Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports. The email included pictures of where catchers could and could not set up, explanations for each frame and much-needed confirmation that the letter of the rule should not be interpreted so strictly when the clear outcome of a play is not affected by catcher positioning.

Basically, the message being things like this should never happen again:

MLB’s fear was that not clarifying the intent of the rule would eventually turn the playoffs into a farce if a call like that one in Miami were to occur next month. The league and outgoing commissioner Bud Selig could not afford that kind of sham outcome when its stage is stretched widest and eyeballs across the country will be open to blast the rule’s absurdity as it has been interpreted this season.

While some of the specifics of the rule remain fuzzy and will have to be redefined after the season, Rule 7.13 has not failed in its focus, which was to cut down on the number of home plate collisions and protect catchers. In that sense, it has been a huge success when you realize how difficult it has become to recall a collision this season.

Where the rule has failed is in how it has confused umpires, managers and players. Hardly anyone knows how to interpret the rule in regard to when a catcher can enter the path of the runner or when a runner can actually collide with a catcher who has entered his path to the plate.

“The interpretation is what we need to get cleaned up,” Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told Brown. “You see one and you see another exactly like it, and the call is the opposite.”

In that same media session, Bleacher Report asked Mattingly if he thought a collision, right or wrong in the spirit of the rule, needed to happen to help create some of that clarity.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Mattingly said. “But it has to be something from Major League Baseball. Before the playoffs.”

Other managers agree.

MLB understood this, not only because of egregious readings of the rule in real time but also because so many baserunners were electing to peel off of the play, conceding a catcher’s tag and then throwing their arms in the air as they looked at the umpire. And then, the replay command center in New York would either change the call or uphold it, and the rule would become murkier with each decision. 

Under the rule, a baserunner is still allowed to hit a catcher as long as he doesn’t leave his direct path to the plate. It just doesn’t happen, and the runners are choosing to avoid the contact, totally abandon their line and just hope for the replay to side with them.

The rule is just as muddled for catchers. Rule 7.13 does not properly define when they can or can’t enter the path of the runner, meaning they don’t know when they can move their feet from fair territory into foul ground. Can a catcher shift his feet after the fielder lets go of the throw, when it reaches the infield or not until it is in the catcher’s glove? No one really understands that part. 

The good thing is baseball, as it has implemented new rules involving replay, has shown a complete willingness to adjust the rules on the fly, and for the betterment of the game. After a slew of early-season replays that seemed to be botched because of MLB’s newly designed transfer rule, the league recognized the error in its change and shifted the rule back toward what it was in previous seasons.

In a press release, MLB labeled Rule 7.13 as “experimental” when it was announced just before the regular season started, so the league should take the results of the rule in its first year and adjust. Go back into the New York lab this offseason and explore the rule further and then clarify it so there is no confusion in 2015.

For now, what we have in the rule does not change, but it is now up to the umpires to use some common sense in interpreting it. MLB just better hope common sense follows it into October.


Anthony Witrado covers Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. He spent the previous three seasons as the national baseball columnist at Sporting News and four years before that as the Brewers beat writer for The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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