The decision to eliminate collisions didn't become a serious topic of conversation until last month at the General Managers Meetings, but the idea quickly caught fire. Managers Mike Matheny of the Cardinals and Bruce Bochy of the Giants, both former catchers, led the push. Both spoke on the subject and others in attendance were asked for their input before the measure was passed.
The exact language of the new rule has not been written. The final draft will be approved by the Rules Committee and then submitted for a vote at the next quarterly Owners Meetings in January. Finally, it must be approved by the Major League Baseball Players Association. Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, chairman of the committee, is confident all that can be accomplished before the 2014 season opens.
The primary consideration is player safety.
"This is, I think, in answer to a few issues that have arisen," Alderson said on the last full day of the annual Winter Meetings. "One is just the general occurrence of injuries from these incidents that affected players, both runners and catchers. And also kind of the general concern about concussions that exists not only in baseball but throughout professional sports and amateur sports today. It's an emerging issue, and one that we in baseball have to address as well as other sports. So that's part of the impetus for this rule change as well."
Alderson admitted that drafting language that will be practical and effective won't be a simple task.
"There are college and high school rules currently that address this issue," Alderson said. "It has to do with a number of different things: Positioning, intent, a variety of things that we are going to look at. Umpires will have some discretion, but at the same time, umpires have other things to do, deciding whether the run scores or doesn't score.
"So it's a little more complicated than it would appear," he said. "But I think ultimately what we want to do is change the culture of acceptance that these plays are ordinary and routine and an accepted part of the game, that the risks and individual risks, the costs associated in terms of health and injury just no longer warrant the status quo.
"So the actual detail, frankly the kinds of plays that we're trying to eliminate, we haven't finally determined. But what I would expect is to put together 100 of these plays and identify which ones we want to continue to allow and others that we want to prohibit and draft a rule accordingly."
Enforcement will be two-fold. A runner who is deemed to have intentionally run over the catcher may be called out, for example, even if he touches the plate without being tagged. There can also be further penalties in terms of fines and ejections.
The owners are also expected to vote on expanded replay, including a manager challenge system, in January after approving funding for the program in November. But after the briefing, several managers indicated that what they were told was far different from what was being discussed at the GM Meetings.
"It's changing every day," one manager said.
MLB executive vice president for baseball operations Joe Torre, however, downplayed that angle.
"The fact of the matter is we still have [to receive approval from the MLBPA and umpires union], so there is really nothing that is in stone at this point in time," Torre said. "But I thought it was a good opportunity to give the managers a little head's up, and especially the fact that the next time we see them it will be Spring Training, just give them something to think about, and to let them call us with any questions or suggestions.
"So it certainly wasn't a meeting where we said, 'This is the way it's going to be,' Torre said. "It was basically, 'This is where we are right now,' and I really don't want to go into it only because it may not be the same thing we start the season with. We have a pretty good idea of where we want to be, but, again, we still have to wait for the unions to sign off."
As recently as last month, Torre was talking about ways to keep managers from stalling to allow a coach or press box employee to look at replays and give a signal whether or not he should appeal. Multiple managers were under the impression Wednesday, however, that not only would they be allowed to get electronic help, but that they had been told it would be available within 10 seconds and that each ballpark would have equal access to a monitor from either dugout.
Asked specifically about that point, Torre didn't deny it, but added: "It's just that we've talked about a lot of stuff. The one thing in this process that our goal is to make everything uniform for all the teams. So you have a road team and a home team, we are making sure that that home team is not going to have an advantage over the road team. ... We plan on having the technology standardized for everybody."
The managers were also under the impression that they would be given just one challenge per game, but would get another if their first was upheld.
"Umpires are my responsibility," Torre said. "I'd like to see no challenges through the course of the ballgame. We have to be realistic, but the fewer, the better. Right now, I think our take on it is we've missed like one call every 5.7 or 5.8 games. The fact is that there is nothing insignificant about any play that happens during the course of a game, because it can turn into something big.
"We just sort of planted some seeds today on some of our thinking, on how we're thinking," Torre said. "As far as how many challenges, you know, the fewer the better for me. Because it is probably easier to increase later as opposed to pulling back, because the game would suffer if I think we've had too many of those."
One thing that remains unchanged is that the replays will be viewed and a decision made at MLB Advanced Media headquarters in New York.
From the beginning, Torre has been mindful of how all of this will impact the pace of play.
"The game is the most important thing," Torre said. "I know we have technology. We can't ignore it. But we certainly don't want to affect the rhythm of the game. Our sport is a little different than other sports. We don't have the built-in timeouts that other sports have where they can do stuff. And we're trying to make sense of what we can do without interfering, and what is important for us."
Torre remains confident that expanded replay, which was tested in the Arizona Fall League, can be implemented in time for the upcoming season despite the numbers of wrinkles that still need to be ironed out.
"I think it can come together very quickly," Torre said. "We're certainly not going to force something if we're not ready to do it the right way. We're pretty confident we can do it with the six or seven weeks of Spring Training, and that will be our practice ground both in Florida and Arizona. I think we'll be in pretty good shape by that time. But they're just loose ends not tied up. It's not like we're all over the place."