Baseball has been buzzing about the call that extended an inning allowing the Reds to defeat the Marlins 3-1 on Thursday night. By now, most people have seen the play, and if you haven’t, you can view it here.
On said play, Jeff Mathis started with his left foot on top of home plate like they have been instructing catchers to do since they are not allowed to set up in front of the plate. Almost immediately after Giancarlo Stanton throws the ball, Jeff Mathis takes a step to his left to better align himself with the throw. As Mathis reaches out further up the third base line to catch the ball, he loses his balance and begins to fall sideways further into the baseline. Zack Cozart finishes running the last 3 feet before arriving to the falling Mathis who reaches out and tags him. Cozart is out by a mile, and the home plate umpire acknowledges that. A six and a half minute review later, MLB replay officials overturn the call.
I am preparing to tell you what Jeff Mathis should have done differently but before I do, let me make this perfectly clear. In my opinion, the call shouldn’t have been overturned. MLB has made it clear that if the throw pulls you into the basepath, you can get in front of the plate to catch the ball. With this understanding, the play should have stood. Now here is what Mathis should have done.
Initially, Mathis was perfectly set up. His first mistake was moving to early. Baseball players are taught at a young age to get in front of the baseball. Mathis was doing just that, but by moving as early as he did, the replay umpires must have felt that he set back up in front of the plate. I know that the play is difficult enough for a catcher, and that the thought of waiting till the last moment doesn’t sound appealing, but in this instance it would have helped.
In that first move that Mathis did, his second mistake was not moving up the line. He correctly turned his body perpendicular to the basepath, but he should have stayed in front of the path, rather than step across the plate into the path. Let me clarify, I am not saying that he should have come out to catch the ball, turned, and dove back at the runner, but with his body facing third base he could have let the ball travel across his body to his glove hand which would have been closer to the runner and allowed for the swipe tag that Major League Baseball is looking for.
The danger with this play is that he allows the runner to potentially avoid the tag by running out of the base path. In years past, they rarely call someone out of the basepath heading toward home since the catcher has been camped out in front of it. That is the obvious way for a runner to avoid the tag. It is a situation that I am sure we will see if this inane rule is not changed soon.
Mathis’ next mistake was merely misreading the play. As he catches the ball, he correctly secures the ball with both hands but seems to be bracing himself for a collision that isn’t coming. It seems as if he thought that Cozart was going to get to him faster than he did. As he hunches over he loses his balance which sends him falling across the basepath with no other solution other than to reach up awkwardly with his hands to tag the runner. If he keeps his balance and focuses on the swipe tag, I believe MLB doesn’t overturn the call either.
Mathis’ problem was that he looked like he was prepared for a collision, and he was in front of the plate. That in a vacuum is what the rule is designed to stop.
It is obvious that Cozart was going to be out regardless of Mathis blocking the plate or not. This play didn’t pass the common sense eye test which is why everyone recognizes such an egregious call. For those of you wondering, I don’t just present problems, I present solutions.
My repeated calls to MLB have gone unanswered, but to me, the solution to this situation is simple. Require the base runner to slide if there is a play at home. If he doesn’t slide and the catcher has the ball, than he is out (he likely would be anyway). If he slides into a catcher’s leg and the catcher doesn’t have the ball, he is safe. By requiring either a head first or feet first slide, you still eliminate the collisions that baseball is so concerned about, and do away with this ridiculous rule.