On home plate collisions, including the famous Ray Lankford play

By now you’ve probably seen or at least read about the most talked about play from last night’s Game 1 of the NLCS, a 5-2 Dodgers victory. But in case you missed it, here’s the Cliff Notes version:

In the bottom of the 7th inning, Charlie Culberson attempted to score from second on a single to left but was initially called out for not touching the plate and being tagged by catcher Willson Contreras. In both real time and on replay, Contreras quite clearly stuck out his left leg before receiving the ball, thereby blocking Culberson’s path to the plate. After a review, Culberson was called safe, Manager Joe Maddon went nuts, got tossed, and the Dodgers now lead 1-0.

A couple of things:

Who knows for certain why Contreras stuck out his left leg – Joe Sheehan noted this morning on Twitter that a lot of people are claiming he did it for positional balance – but I suspect he instinctively did it to prevent Culberson from easily reaching home. In the moment, that’s pretty understandable. I also suspect a lot of catchers would have done the same thing. But this seems like a pretty textbook example of why this rule (often called the Buster Posey rule, although Grant Brisbee has pointed out that’s an erroneous moniker) was created in the first place. If you wanted to show an audience an obvious example of what you can no longer do as a catcher per the rule book, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better one.

My experience with this rule and its application, which to put it mildly is quite anecdotal, is that MLB has not done the best job articulating it nor enforcing it. MLB would be better served making sure the runner is always called safe in this situation (i.e., when the catcher intentionally blocks the runner’s path before receiving the ball), whether it’s the regular season, or Game 7 of the World Series. Still, they got the call right last night, and that’s a step in the right direction.

After the game, Joe Maddon had a few thoughts on the situation, most notably this one:

He’s sticking up for his players, which is fine and understandable, but that’s a dumb and boorish thing to say. I’m guessing Buster Posey is fine with the rule. We know Mike Matheny is. They have about 8,500 combined plate appearances at the highest level of baseball compared to Maddon’s zero.

Lastly, any time I see a play litigated like that at the plate, I think of Ray Lankford bowling over Darren Daulton in April 1991, even though it’s an entirely different play altogether. In case you haven’t seen it, here you go:


This play was celebrated by Cardinals fans at the time and still is. And again, this is apples and oranges to last night in that the throw brought Daulton directly into Lankford’s path making him a sitting duck to no fault of his own. Conversely, Lankford really didn’t do anything wrong either. But shoot, that’s hard to watch. Anything baseball can do to limit violent collisions like this is in the best interest for all involved. The Lankford play might be harder to avoid, but a home plate collision was possibly prevented last night and that’s a good thing.

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