There has been a lot of discussion over the past few years about creating a rule to prevent collisions at home plate between runners and catchers. That rule has been put into effect for the 2014 season.
If you don’t mind reading rules in rulebook language, you can read it here. If you want to read the Standard English version, keep reading. If you want a video of me reading the Standard English version, it’s at the end.
Let’s take a look at what it says:
A runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate).
So what can the runner not do?
He cannot lower his shoulder or push through with his hands, elbows, or arms towards the catcher.
What happens if he does initiate contact with the catcher?
First, the umpire will call the runner out. Second, the ball is dead. Third, all other runners will have to return to the last base they touched before the collision.
Does the runner have to slide?
No. Technically, this rule does not require the runner to slide as many rules in lower level of play do. As long as you don’t touch the catcher, you can still run around him or jump over him, but if you aren’t Ichiro, the best way to avoid being called out under the rule is probably by sliding.
The rule gets technical about what a slide in this situation would require:
A slide requires that a player’s buttocks or legs (if a feet-first slide) or his body (if a head-first slide) makes contact with the ground before he makes contact with the catcher.
The final part of the rule is directed at the catchers, who unless they are in possession of the ball “cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score.” If he does block the path without the ball, the runner will be safe.
Part two for the catchers:
It shall not be considered a violation… if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in order to field a throw, and the umpire determines that the catcher could not have fielded the ball without blocking the pathway of the runner and that contact with the runner was unavoidable.
Just like when a runner is running from first to second, if the second baseman is making a play on the ball, the fielder has the right to make the play and the runner has to get out of the way. In much the same way, the catcher here fielding a throw has the right to field the throw.
Finally, yes this type of play will be reviewable under the new instant replay rules.
All-in-all, the runner cannot initiate contact with the catcher, and while he is not required to slide under this rule, it is probably the best way to make sure you aren’t called out.