The change comes in the wake of a play last week involving Pirates catcher Russell Martin in which a call was overturned during instant replay review. After the play, Martin was found to have been obstructing the plate on a force play against the Reds.
However, runners are still not allowed to attempt to score by running over the catcher and trying to dislodge the ball. That is covered under Rule 6.05(m), which covers runners interfering with a fielder who is completing a play.
Nor will the catcher be allowed to block the plate without the ball, unless he is in the process of receiving a throw. It is understood that some contact between the runner and the catcher is inevitable within the limits of the rules.
Force plays at the plate will continue to be reviewable by video replay. However, the umpire's judgment call on whether interference or obstruction occurred on such plays will not be subject to review.
"It take some confusion out of the force play at home and it makes a lot of sense, because on the force play you're just talking about a foot on the plate, not blocking the whole plate," said Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg.
Sandberg has expressed frustration at times this year about how the rule on non-force plays at the plate has been applied. "There are so many variables that come into the rule with the ball and where it is and where the throw is coming from," he pointed out.
Marlins manager Mike Redmond, a former catcher, had no problem with the change, but believes the entire rule needs to be re-examined. "... That's one of those plays where you go out there (to talk to the umpire) and you're not sure," he said. "There's definitely some confusion there that needs to be worked out."
Amid growing concerns over the long-term effects of concussions, MLB moved quickly last offseason to improve the safety of players by prohibiting runners from lowering their shoulders or otherwise bulldozing catchers.
The result was Rule 7.13, which states that runners attempting to score may not deviate from their path in order to initiate contact. In such instances, the umpire would declare a baserunner out even if the player covering the plate lost possession of the ball.
The catcher, however, is also not allowed to block the plate without the ball and must give the runner a lane in which to slide. In those cases, the runner is to be called safe even if he doesn't touch the plate.