Blocking the plate
|This article does not cite any references or sources. (December 2007)|
By the rules of baseball, a runner has the right to an unobstructed path to a base. However, this right is not granted if the fielder guarding the base possesses the ball or is in the process of catching the ball.
The fielders guarding first through third base are unlikely to risk physical harm and will generally place themselves out of the path of the runner. The catcher guarding home plate, however, wears padding and a face mask and will frequently place his body as an obstacle between the runner and home plate. Since the runner does not have to worry about remaining on home plate, only tagging it, he will run at full speed in an effort to reach the final base. The speed of the runner combined with the fact that the catcher still has to tag him (unless the bases are loaded and the force play at home is still available) makes for a dramatic play.
Any time there is a close play at home plate, meaning the ball and runner reach the plate at the same time, the catcher squats in front of the plate to block a clear path. Unless he is willing to be tagged out, the runner who is faced with a blocked plate has two choices. He can:
- Attempt to slide around the catcher and avoid being tagged, or,
- Collide with the catcher with such force that the catcher has no chance of keeping possession of the ball.
The catcher soon becomes aware of which option the runner will choose. If the runner slides, the catcher will make a sweeping motion with his glove to quickly tag the runner out. Otherwise, the catcher must do everything he can to brace for the impact and keep the ball in his glove.
Both players place themselves at risk of injury when there is a close play at home plate, and though they wear padding, catchers are more likely to be injured than runners. Catchers generally have bad knees due to the squatting stance they take at the plate. A catcher's knees are also closest body part to an incoming runner, and there is a chance of an ACL injury to the catcher. Other injuries include bruises and concussions.
In one infamous incident, Cleveland Indians catcher Ray Fosse suffered a separated shoulder when Pete Rose intentionally collided with him on a play at the plate during the 1970 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Rose was roundly criticized, since firstly, the game was an exhibition, and secondly, he could have easily slid around Fosse rather than colliding with him. Ultimately, the incident served to help build Rose's "Charlie Hustle" reputation and Fosse, who had been having a phenomenal rookie season, was never quite the same after the play.
In other versions of baseball, like Finnish baseball, the runner is considered tagged and out in case of him/her still running to base (and not yet arriving there) and defending player holding the ball while touching the target base simultaneously. In this case no physical contact is necessary to avoid injuries and the base umpire will call the runner out by raising a sign with letter X and referee whistles twice. In Finnish baseball player who is called out is literally called either "dead" or "burned."