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Pete Rose made the home plate collision famous in the 1970 All Star Game when he trucked catcher Ray Fosse to win the game. The play caused some controversy as Fosse was never the same physically after the collision. While the home plate collision was an exciting part of the game back in Rose’s time up to the early 2000’s, it has been outlawed in almost all levels of youth baseball since.
The simple answer is no, high school baseball players are not allowed to intentionally run over a catcher. This has been the rule for a while now in high school baseball to protect both catchers and runners.
Let’s break down this rule and some ways runners and catchers can avoid collisions at the plate.
Analyzing the Rulebook
Most high school baseball associations follow the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) guidelines. According to the 2020 NFHS Baseball Rules Book Rule 8 Section 4 Article 2e, “any runner is out when he initiates malicious contact.”
Running over the catcher certainly classifies as malicious contact. Rule 8 Section 4 Article 2b2 states that “runners are never required to slide, but if a runner elects to slide, the slide must be legal.”
What does this rule have to do with running over the catcher? Well, sliding is a great way to avoid both a tag and a collision with a catcher who may or may not be blocking the plate.
Avoiding Collisions at the Plate
The most popular way to avoid malicious contact is sliding. If a catcher is blocking the plate (which he is not allowed to do without the ball), the runner may attempt to slide underneath or around the tag.
Sliding around the tag has become a popular way to avoid tags at home plate as well as second and third base. Not only does this give the runner a good opportunity to avoid being tagged out, but it also makes it obvious to the umpire that the runner is attempting to avoid malicious contact.
If the catcher catches the ball on or in front of home plate, the runner should try to slide toward the back of home plate and reach his left hand out to swipe it across the plate. If the catcher catches the ball behind home plate, the runner should try to slide toward the front of home plate and reach his right hand out to try to swipe it on the plate.
Sliding around the plate has become a popular play among high schoolers because when executed correctly, it looks really good.
Sometimes, a fancy slide around the plate isn’t always necessary. Sliding straight into the plate can be a successful tactic for runners as they may be able to slide underneath a catcher’s tag. After all, the quickest route from point A to point B is a straight line.
Feet First vs. Head First
Little League coaches typically teach their young players how to slide feet first because it is considered the safest way to slide. In some youth leagues, any slide other than a feet first slide is illegal.
When players get a little older, it is natural for coaches to start teaching the head first slide. This type of slide is believed to allow runners to reach their destination faster because they do not have to slow down like they do trying to slide feet first. However, this style is not as safe as sliding feet first, although it is not necessarily unsafe for high schoolers on the base paths.
When sliding into home plate though, young players should try to refrain from sliding head first. The catcher wears a lot more equipment than the runner. Sliding head first puts the player’s hands and face at more risk to be injured than at other bases.
A good rule of thumb for high school players is to always slide feet first into home plate in order to protect their face and upper extremities. They are probably accustomed to seeing college and professional players slide head first on a play at home plate, but they should be aware that these players are more experienced and likely know how to do it safely.
Famous Home Plate Collisions in the MLB
As mentioned earlier, Pete Rose was known as Charlie Hustle for a reason. He played the game as hard as he could often putting himself, and others, in harm’s way when doing so. His collision with Ray Fosse is perhaps the most famous of all home plate collisions.
Buster Posey was a perennial All Star catcher who looked to be just that for many years to come. That didn’t stop Scott Cousins from lowering his shoulder into Posey to cause a collision at home plate in 2011. The play resulted in a broken leg and several torn ligaments in Posey’s ankle.
Like Fosse, Posey was never the same after the collision. This violent play is what prompted the MLB to change its rule in regards to plays at the plate. Now such a play is illegal. It is a shame that a promising career had to end to prompt the change.
Before the rule change, even catchers were not above trucking other catchers to score a run. Chicago White Sox catcher AJ Pierzynski barrelled over Cubs catcher Michael Barrett in 2006. Barrett was not injured, but what made this play so memorable was what ensued after.
Barrett got up and exchanged words with his White Sox counterpart before eventually punching him. This caused both benches to clear and a brawl followed. Baseball is known for its unwritten rules, and Pierzynski committed one with this catcher on catcher crime.
Last but not least, one of Ivan Rodriguez’s defining plays of his career came in the 2003 National League Division Series when JT Snow attempted to truck the Hall of Fame catcher to knock the ball out of his hand. His attempt was unsuccessful. Rodriguez, despite being toppled over, held onto the ball and saved the game for his Marlins team that would go on to win the World Series that year.
Running over the catcher was just a part of the game before Major League Baseball outlawed it after Posey’s injury. While many collisions ended in serious injury, runners were likely only doing what they were taught to do at that time when a catcher blocked the plate.
While home plate collisions definitely gave the sport more of a tough guy feel, the new rule is clearly better for the game in that more catchers’ careers aren’t threatened when a baserunner rounds third.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are you allowed to jump over the catcher in high school baseball?
Yes, you are allowed to jump over the catcher but only if the catcher is already on the ground. Section 4 Article 2b2 of the NFHS rule book states that, “Jumping, hurdling, and leaping are all legal attempts to avoid a fielder as long as the fielder is lying on the ground. Diving over a fielder is illegal.” This would result in the runner being called out.
Why aren’t catchers allowed to block the plate without the ball?
Catchers aren’t allowed to block the plate without the ball because it gives them an unfair advantage against runners who can’t truck them anymore. The game has been made safer for catchers, so it would not be fair to allow them to stand all over the plate knowing good and well that they won’t be tackled. It is similar to the obstruction rule where fielders are not allowed to get in the way of a runner advancing bases.
Does this rule apply to other positions?
Yes, runners are not allowed to create malicious contact with other fielders. Incidental contact often happens at first base when a fielder’s throw leads his first baseman into the baseline. Runners are taught not to slide at first base which limits injuries on good throws but creates them on bad throws. As long as the runner stays in the baseline and doesn’t throw any elbows or fists, the umpire is likely to chalk this contact up as incidental and allow the runner to remain on base (given he was safe in the first place).