LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Pete Rose sounded bowled over.
Charlie Hustle, who famously flattened Ray Fosse to score the winning run in the 1970 All-Star game, couldn’t believe Major League Baseball intends to eliminate home-plate collisions by 2015 at the latest.
“What are they going to do next, you can’t break up a double play?” Rose said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press after MLB announced its plan Wednesday.
“You’re not allowed to pitch inside. The hitters wear more armor than the Humvees in Afghanistan. Now you’re not allowed to try to be safe at home plate?” Rose said. “What’s the game coming to? Evidently the guys making all these rules never played the game of baseball.”
New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, chairman of the rules committee, made the announcement at the winter meetings, saying the change would go into effect for next season if the players’ association approved. Safety and concern over concussions were major factors — fans still cringe at the thought of the season-ending hit Buster Posey absorbed in 2011.
“Ultimately what we want to do is change the culture of acceptance that these plays are ordinary and routine and an accepted part of the game,” Alderson said. “The costs associated in terms of health and injury just no longer warrant the status quo.”
In a sport long bound by tradition, a ban will be a major step. MLB also is instituting a vast increase in the use of instant replay by umpires next season in an effort to eliminate blown calls.
The NFL reached a settlement last summer in a concussion-related lawsuit by former players for $765 million, and a group of hockey players sued the NHL last month over brain trauma.
Banned for life in 1989 following a gambling investigation, Rose insists Fosse was blocking the plate without the ball, which is against the rules. Fosse injured a shoulder, and his career went into a downslide.
“Since 1869, baseball has been doing pretty well,” Rose said. “The only rules they ever changed was the mound (height) and the DH. I thought baseball was doing pretty good. Maybe I’m wrong about the attendance figures and the number of people going to ballgames.”
Alderson said wording of the rules change will be presented to owners for approval at their Jan. 16 meeting in Paradise Valley, Ariz. Details must be sorted out, such as what should happen if a catcher blocks the plate without the ball?
“The exact language and how exactly the rule will be enforced is subject to final determination,” he said. “We’re going to do fairly extensive review of the types of plays that occur at home plate to determine which we’re going to find acceptable and which are going to be prohibited.”
Approval of the players’ union is needed for the rules change to be effective for 2014.
“If the players’ association were to disapprove, then the implementation of the rule would be suspended for one year, but could be implemented unilaterally after that time,” Alderson said.
The union declined comment, pending a review of the proposed change. Some players spoke up on Twitter.
“No more home plate collisions?! What is this? NFL quarterbacks are catchers now?” Oakland outfielder Josh Reddick wrote.
“Nothing better than getting run over and showing the umpire the ball. Please don’t ban home plate collisions,” Pittsburgh rookie catcher Tony Sanchez posted.
“Totally disagree,” added retired catcher John Flaherty, now an analyst with the Yankees’ YES Network.
Discussion to limit or ban collisions has intensified since May 2011, when Posey was injured as the Marlins’ Scott Cousins crashed the plate. Posey, San Francisco’s All-Star catcher, sustained a broken bone in his lower left leg and three torn ligaments in his ankle, an injury that ended his season.
Posey returned to win the NL batting title and MVP award in 2012, when he led the Giants to their second World Series title in three seasons.
In Game 5 of this year’s AL championship series, Detroit catcher Alex Avila was pulled a couple innings after being run over at the plate by Boston’s David Ross, a fellow catcher sidelined for much of the season by concussions resulting from foul tips.
“This is, I think, in response to a few issues that have arisen,” Alderson said. “One is just the general occurrence of injuries from these incidents at home plate that affect players, both runners and catchers. And also kind of the general concern about concussions that exists not only in baseball but throughout professional sports and amateur sports today. It’s an emerging issue, and one that we in baseball have to address, as well as other sports.”
Former catchers Joe Girardi, Bruce Bochy and Mike Matheny — all now managing in the majors — attended Wednesday’s meeting.
“I don’t think it’s completely sparked by anything that’s happened in baseball as much as what’s happening outside of baseball and how it’s impacting people and impacting the welfare of each sport,” said Matheny, now managing the St. Louis Cardinals.
But not everyone is in favor of a change.
“I lost time as a catcher being run over a couple different times, but I thought it was part of my job and I enjoyed the contact,” said Girardi, the New York Yankees’ manager. “Now I’m not so sure that everyone enjoys contact. But I love football, so I liked it.”
MLB intends to have varied tiers of punishment.
“I think there will be two levels of enforcement,” Alderson said. “One will be with respect to whether the runner is declared safe or out based on conduct. So, for example, intentionally running over the catcher might result in an out call. So I think that the enforcement will be on the field as well as subsequent consequences in the form of fines and suspensions and the like.”
Drafting the rule figures to be complicated.
“Does it include at every base or just home plate?” Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said. “What’s considered blocking the plate and how do you define all of it?”
The NCAA instituted a rule on collisions for the 2011 season, saying “contact above the waist that was initiated by the base runner shall not be judged as an attempt to reach the base or plate.” The umpire can call the runner out and also eject the player if contact is determined to be malicious or flagrant.
The rule is likely to have an effect on youth leagues, too, where player safety is a primary concern. Little League runners must either slide or try to get around fielders. Plate collisions often are prohibited in high-school ball.
“The actual detail, frankly the kinds of plays that we’re trying to eliminate, we haven’t finely determined,” Alderson said. “I would expect to put together 100 of these plays and identify which ones we want to continue to allow and others that we want to prohibit, and draft a rule accordingly.”