In an attempt to clear up confusion over baseball's new collision rule, MLB executive VP Joe Torre distributed a memo Tuesday clarifying the rule to umpires and all 30 clubs.
MLB made no announcement about the clarification of Rule 7:13.
However, ESPN obtained a copy of Torre's memorandum, which firmly instructs umpires not to call a runner safe, even if the catcher has blocked the plate without the ball, if there is no evidence that the catcher has "hindered or impeded" the runner's path to home plate.
The new guidelines, which were arrived at following several weeks of talks between MLB and the Players Association, will take effect immediately. The late-season agreement is timed in the hope of keeping postseason controversy surround the rule to a minimum.
Primarily, the clarification was to send a reminder to umpires that while the intent of the rule was to protect catchers from violent home-plate collisions, the wording was not intended to be interpreted so strictly that it would allow runners to be called safe on a technicality if the throw had beaten them to the plate by a substantial margin.
In his memorandum, Torre described this portion of Rule 7:13 as a "judgment call." However, the judgment, he said, goes beyond establishing whether the catcher is "blocking the plate without the ball (or when not in the act of fielding the ball)."
Even if the umpire or replay official decides that the catcher has blocked the plate improperly, Torre said, he must also determine whether that catcher "hindered or impeded the progress of the runner attempting to score."
And the memorandum specifically instructs umpires and replay officials not to find a "violation" of the rule by the catcher "unless the catcher's position hindered or impeded the runner from scoring prior to the tag."
Torre goes on to remind umpires that even before the season, MLB's original instructions dictated that in situations where a runner was clearly out by a wide margin, "if the runner would have been called out notwithstanding the catcher's improper positioning in front of the plate, the out call will stand."
The discussions which led to Torre's memorandum sides began several weeks ago, after what one source described as "four or five" similar plays, within a span of a couple of weeks, began to raise concerns about how umpires were calling those plays on the field and in the replay command center in New York.
The most controversial of those calls took place in a Miami Marlins-Cincinnati Reds game July 31. Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton had appeared to throw out the tying run at home plate easily, following a fly ball to right, for what appeared to be the final out of the eighth inning.
However, that call was reversed by replay officials, over the positioning of catcher Jeff Mathis' feet before he received the throw, and the Reds went on to win. That loss prompted Marlins manager Mike Redmond to say afterward: "To lose this game on a technicality is (baloney)."
The new guidelines were issued in an attempt to prevent similar controversy in the postseason. However, in his memorandum, Torre also reminded teams that "each club has a responsibility to train its catchers and its baserunners to comply with the rule."
"Managers should continue to instruct their runners to slide into home plate, and to instruct their catchers to set up to receive a throw in fair territory," Torre said.
At another point in the memorandum, Torre hinted that MLB believes managers have been appealing too many plays at the plate and delaying games unnecessarily.
"Managers who request a review of every play at the plate for a potential violation of Rule 7.13, even in circumstances when the rule clearly has not been violated," he said, "are doing a disservice to the game and creating unnecessary delay and controversy."
Despite the confusion that led to Tuesday's directive, however, Torre made it clear that in general the rule has been "very successful" in eliminating both collisions at home plate and injuries to catchers as a result of those collisions.
"MLB has experienced virtually no collisions at the plate in 2014, and not one catcher has suffered a concussion or otherwise has been injured as a result of a collision," Torre said. "In addition, no player has been found to have deviated from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher. Rather, baserunners overwhelmingly have chosen to slide into home plate, which we strongly encouraged when Rule 7.13 was introduced prior to the start of the season."
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez called the clarification "basically the same thing."
"But the officials in New York got to use a little bit of common sense," Gonzalez said. "If you're out by 40 feet ... let's not call that guy safe because of that."
Ryan Hanigan gave Drew no lane to the plate as the Rays' catcher waited for the throw, which arrived in plenty of time.
Hanigan tagged the sliding runner and Drew was called out by plate umpire Vic Carapazza. The ruling was upheld following a replay review, leaving the Rays with a 4-3 lead.
"There's been a few plays this year where it looks like the guy's been out by 10 feet and they call him safe because he felt like the catcher -- he took the plate away," Colorado manager Walt Weiss said. "You've got to add some common sense to the rule."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.