April 26, 2014

MLB Insider: Take a bow, MLB, but about that other rule …

Common sense has prevailed with the transfer rule, and help is coming with the new rule protecting catchers.

Give credit to Major League Baseball. All along, Joe Torre and the well-meaning members of the Rules Committee cautioned that the brand-new expanded replay wouldn’t run perfectly as it rolled off the lot for the first time.

Changes would be made, if needed.

The system wasn’t even a month old, and already it needed to head back to the dealership for repairs after a catch didn’t mean what it used to for, oh, the past 100-plus years.

Section 2 of the MLB rulebook, where a catch is plainly defined, hadn’t changed. If a fielder catches a ball, proving that he has control of it, but drops it while intentionally releasing it from his glove, the result of the play is still an out.

That wasn’t the case for the first 20-plus games, thanks to replay and the new way the transfer was being interpreted. Decades’ worth of outs at second base, or wherever balls that were once caught and then dropped as the player removed the ball from his glove, suddenly had become safe calls and errors that altered games.

Common sense had somehow left the building. Even many umpires, judging on many of their initial out calls have been turned into safe calls, seemed torn between old and new.

Umpires seem to have no idea how another new rule, the experimental one on home-plate collisions, should be enforced.

Fortunately, the transfer rule was altered Friday, and Rule 7.13 will be soon. The players’ union complained. Meetings were being held. Conference calls were planned. Phony baloney jobs needed to be saved.

Harrumph. Harrumph.

Peace has quickly returned to managers and fielders everywhere with the elimination of the ridiculous transfer calls.

Ron Washington and Lloyd McClendon, who are going head to head this weekend at Safeco Field, might have been the two managers who drew the most attention over the transfer rule.

Washington was outspoken in Boston when Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus was charged with an error after a ball hit the dirt as he went for a double play. It happened again a week later against Seattle, this time when catcher J.P. Arencibia had a bad transfer at home.

Washington was so peeved that he went after the umpires, knowing full well that he would be ejected and slapped with a fine.

McClendon, by the way, had challenged the Arencibia play. By that time, McClendon was an expert after seeing outfielder Dustin Ackley slapped twice by botched transfers. Not only did McClendon get the Rangers, he also got Josh Hamilton and the Angels.

Whereas managers’ and fielders’ pleas for sanity over the transfer rule have been heard, there continues to be uncertainty about when a catcher can and can’t block the plate. That’s next up for the Rules Committe

The problem is with the way the rule is written. It clearly states that a catcher can’t block home without the ball, yet it’s up to the umpires to judge if the plate was blocked.

They don’t seem to be judging it correctly.

Base runners are on-board with doing their best to protect catchers from unnecessary and violent collisions. There have been no issues with that part of the rule.

Some catchers, though, haven’t grasped their end of the deal, which is to give the runners a clear lane to score by not blocking without the ball.

Rangers right fielder Alex Rios, whose path to the plate Wednesday was blocked by Derek Norris before he had caught a throw home, thought that he understood the rule before realizing how it’s being enforced.

“It’s like you can’t block the plate, but you can at the same time,” Rios said.

The good news is that change has come and will come again. The transfer rule is going to be enforced as it used to be, and catchers, reportedly, are going to be given stricter guidelines for giving a runner a lane to the plate.

Give credit to MLB and the honchos on the Rules Committee. Their new replay system botched the transfer rule, and the rule governing catcher collisions isn’t exactly perfect.

Change, as they’ve said all along, would come. One change couldn’t have come soon enough. Another needs to happen soon, too.

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