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The Collision Rule: Misunderstood, Misapplied

by Ken Vanderpoel
(This article appeared in the Fall 2000 issue of HardBall Magazine)

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Catcher Mickey Phillips (Reno Astros) broke his thumb tagging out John Haymond of the Pacific Coast Crimson Run during MABL National championship game at 1999 MABL World Series in Arizona. (Photo by Denevi & Jones)
The MSBL Collision Rule: "A runner who fails to make a reasonable attempt to avoid a collision with a defensive player shall be called out. Any other runner advancing on the play shall be required to return to the last base visited. In the event that an umpire determines that a collision was flagrant (i.e., attempting to bowl over the catcher when it is clear that he has the ball and is waiting to apply the tag...), he has the authority to eject the offending player from the game.”

Only professional baseball allows intentional collisions between runners and fielders. At every amateur level, due to an obvious concern for player safety, such contact is forbidden. If an umpire judges a collision flagrant, severe penalties may be imposed.

The Runner Must Avoid Contact

In the MSBL, the runner must avoid contact, even if the fielder is improperly blocking the basepath. Because the runner can see the path in front of him and the fielder must concentrate on the ball, the runner bears greater responsibility to avoid contact.

When runners raise their arms or elbows during a tag attempt, they create a difficult judgment call. If the obvious intent is to dislodge the ball, it should be treated as an intentional collision. The basic principle remains: runners must avoid intentional contact.

The Obstruction Rule

Fielders may not block a base unless they are immediately making a play on a batted or thrown ball in that area. Catchers should station themselves in the cutout in front of the plate, not down the third base line. The runner has the right to the base path, unless a fielder is in the process of making a play. A runner whose path to the base is illegally blocked, shall be awarded that base. A fielder who initiates contact by illegally blocking the basepath or applies an excessively violent tag, may be ejected, just like the runner.

Umpires: Know and Explain The Rule

To avoid confusion, arguments and injuries, our National Umpires Association needs to train league and tournament umpires regarding the collision rule. Every home plate meeting should include a review of this rule, especially when new umpires are working.

Players and managers should remember that umpires often work for many baseball organizations, that each organization interprets rules in its own way and that umpires’ judgments are not protestable. Making sure that every umpire understands the MSBL Collision Rule is a serious concern for league administrators, far outweighing the outcome of a specific play or game.

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Comments on "The Collision Rule: Misunderstood, Misapplied"
Michael
I have seen this rule missapplied or not called eight times. Umpires in general are not smart enough to understand most judgement rulings so for the most part they call a player out and eject to err on the "safe" side. Many interperet this rule as a "mandatory slide rule" which is false. Once I saw it called at first base on a ground ball to third. The runner is allowed to run through the bag at first (and home) but the throw pulled the first baseman off the bag to field a short hop, he then dove into the path of the runner to make the tag. it was an ugly collision to be sure but the fielder clearly initiated the contact. The umpire called the runner out (which was correct since the fielder held onto the ball) but then he ejected the runner for "bulldogging" and in my league that carries an automatic two game suspension. I appealed and had the suspension overturned.
Michael
The worst calls happen when no collision even occurs. I have seen this a few times. A runner was rounding third comming for home when the throw took the catcher up the third base line. The catcher reached back and tagged the runner on the side and dropped the ball. The umire called the runner out for "illeagal contact".
Michael
Obstruction is a far greater problem in the MSBL than runners colliding on a tag play. I would like to see ejections handed out for obstruction as well. I hit a ball into the left field corner so I was digging for two right out of the box. When I tried to round first, the first baseman was standing on the bag. I tried to pass him on the outside but my shoulder clipped him and it sent me tumbling. The ball came in and the second baseman tagged me as I was shaking off the hit. The umpire call me safe and indicated for me to return to first. I had to explain to him that I was entitled to second. As I walked to second, they tried to tag me out again but I remained on second. The umpires just shrugged it off as if they did not know what to call.
Michael
How about the one when the player slid and was still ejected for a collision? It happened in the first game of a playoff series and the player was suspended for the next game without review. The catcher was blocking home plate like they always do waiting for the throw. The ball got there just ahead of the runner who slid hard into the shin guards. The impact caused the runners body, weighing 145lb, to roll forward into the 210lb catcher's chest. The umpire only made the ejection call after the catcher yelled and threw a hissy fit.
Michael
You want to know how to reduce collisions in all leagues even in the Major League? Make a rule change that states that a player is out when tagged by a player that clearly has control of the ball reguardless if the ball is dropped after contact. Simple. No one will try to jar the ball loose because you will still be called out. I had a runner comming at me at second and to avoid collision, I side stepped him and held my glove out for him to run into the tag. Instead, he dove at my glove and punched the ball out. I was holding it chest high but the umpire said is was a slide attempt and called him safe. Pathetic!
Michael
I am not a dirty player but sometimes the ignorance of the umpires creat an unsafe situation. I was playing short and covering second on a steal. I received a perfect throw from the catcher and in one motion swiped the tag against the runners jersey. The player was no where near the bag when I applied the tag so I was shocked when he was called safe. The umpire was between the mound and second and could not "see daylight" between my glove and the runners body and yet he said I missed him. Two innings later another steal attempt resulted in a broken nose when the runner slid head first into my shin. I had to block the bag and it worked because I got the out call this time. I apologised to the runner and blamed it on the bad call earlier.
Roger F. - Cleveland
Umpires are not ignorant or stupid. I think all players should have to umpire a pre-season game.Umpiring not easy, and much is judgment. As in all professions, some people are not as good at their job as others. It seems unfair, because some umpires make bad calls, to label them all as incompetent. Count the number of overall correct calls and compare that to missed ones, and your perspective may change. I have umpired and am also a current 38+ player. Misapplication of a rule is appealable,as yo know. Judgments are why there are umps in the first place. Players are biased. Giv'm a break.
Richard Stevens
I had a situation arise on a gound ball to the shortstop. When approaching the base the first baseman squatted down and completely covered the base giving me no base area to step on. He was fielding a short hop from the throw. A collision occured and I was called out. The only other path was to not try to touch the base and basically run by the base without touching. This is what my coach advised. Doesn't sound right seems the runner should at least have access to step on the base.
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