MLB tweaks wording on force plays

Major League Baseball took a formal step Tuesday to clarify a portion of the new rule governing unnecessary collisions between baserunners and catchers at home plate.

In a statement sent to the baseball operations departments for all 30 teams, MLB said umpires have been instructed not to apply Rule 7.13 to force plays at home plate. The directive came several days after Joe Torre, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, said the rules were interpreted incorrectly to overturn an apparent force play in a game between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

"A number of questions recently have arisen about the application of Official Playing Rule 7.13 to force plays at home plate,'' the MLB statement said. "Rule 7.13 was adopted in order to prevent unnecessary collisions at home plate between a runner attempting to score and a catcher attempting to make a tag play on the runner. The Rule as intended has no function or purpose in the context of a force play (i.e., a runner attempting to score from third with the bases loaded). As a result, effective immediately, Umpires will be instructed not to apply Rule 7.13 to force plays at home plate.''

An overturned call led to controversy in the third inning of Cincinnati's 11-4 victory over the Pirates on June 18. Umpires initially ruled that Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco was out on a force play at home plate, then changed the call to safe because officials at MLB's replay command center in New York determined that Pirates catcher Russell Martin had illegally blocked home plate with his foot.

Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle was ejected for arguing the call, and Torre issued a statement saying replay officials had been incorrect in their application of Rule 7.13 -- which Torre said was designed solely "to prevent egregious home plate collisions.''

Rule 7.13 prohibits catchers from blocking home plate without possession of the ball and decrees that baserunners with an open route to home plate cannot diverge from a direct path to initiate contact with a catcher or other player covering home.

"Last night's play at home plate was one of the most difficult calls that our umpires have faced this season, given that the positioning of the catcher at home plate was necessary to record the force out,'' Torre said in a statement after the call in Pittsburgh. "After evaluating the play and the details of the review, we recognize that this play was not the type that should have resulted in a violation of Rule 7.13.''

In its statement to clubs Tuesday, MLB also said that contact between a runner and a catcher standing on home plate is still permissible within the limits of rules governing interference.

"But, while force plays at the plate will continue to be reviewable by video replay, a determination of whether interference or obstruction occurred during such plays shall not be reviewable,'' the statement said.