The 2014 Major League Baseball season will see expanded instant replay options and some interesting tweaks of the "play at the plate" rules for all teams.

For the first time, a plethora of calls other than just home runs will be reviewable with managers getting up to two challenges per game. Catchers and runners will also be held to a completely different standard when it comes to crashes at the plate.

Serious injuries in home plate collisions between runners and catchers is not uncommon in the majors, and before the start of the coming season the league felt the need to address the status quo and try to make some minor alterations that might save some players from sustaining more concussions, dislocations and broken bones in the future.

The age-old standard allows the runner to basically clobber the catcher as he attempts to make contact with the plate without being tagged out. The runner is also highly encouraged to hit that catcher as violently as possible if there is a chance to dislodge the ball, or make sure his adversary doesn't catch it at all.

Described as a one-year experiment, Major League Baseball is going to engage in some shapeshifting with the collision rules this coming season. Instead of a total ban, runners will only be able to collide with catchers under more narrow circumstances.

The rules now state that the catcher must be blocking the runner's direct path to home plate or must be standing in the basepath to field a throw for him to be a legal target for tackling.

The exact language of the primary section of the rule change reads: "a runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate)."

So, in other words there is to be no more taking advantage of the rule just to lay a legal hit on the catcher in situations where the catcher is not even trying to block the plate or not expecting to be hit at all due to his positioning.

The rule also forces the catcher to stay out of the runner's way unless he absolutely must block the path to the plate to field a throw. A runner will be called safe if the catcher decides to stand in his way for no good reason.

These new conditions also allow umpires to make the determination that a player is trying more to hit the catcher than he is to actually make contact with the plate. Thus, the rule will encourage more sliding into home plate rather than slamming into the catcher. A runner who violates the rules will be called out.

The instant replay changes the league will allow this year may not prevent any injuries down the line, but they will certainly decrease the frustration and aggravation often caused when crucial games are decided by calls that would have been reversed on review.

A host of calls are now subject to review with managers getting one challenge guaranteed and another if their first challenge is successful. Teams will be allowed to retain a replay specialist, but no replay equipment will be placed in the dugout.

Reviews are expected to take around one minute to be decided. Managers can challenge: fair/foul calls, trap/catch calls in the outfield, ground-rule doubles, fan interference, hit-by-pitch calls, base touching discrepancies, ball-strike counts, record keeping issues and many other key scenarios with very few exclusions.

MLB executive and former St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa helped create the new system and estimates 90 percent of all plays will now be subject to review.

Once a manager is out of his own challenges, he will still have another ace in the hole after the seventh inning. During that phase of the game, umpires themselves can ask to initiate a review of any close play.

The league will monitor how the new system develops and make further changes over a broad three-year period. Fans everywhere can now rejoice that they won't have to bang their heads off any more walls thanks to blown calls that hurt their teams.

Players and team personnel can rest assured that fewer results will be based on luck now and more focus will be placed on getting things right. There will still be some aspects of the game that will slip through the replay cracks, but wins due to technicality will surely be fewer and farther between this season if this effort really works.


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