Utley already thinking about home plate collisions
We've all seen Chase Utley run the bases.
Utley is not a sadistic human being, that we know of. This is not a play you see in baseball because the runner is a violent psychopath (not every time, any way). But it became common enough - the catcher in that image, Dioner Navarro, was hurt during the play - that baseball changed the rules.
We can look forward to catchers suffering less shattered bones and runners not feeling like they have no option but to shatter a man's bones in 2014. But like all changes in baseball, there will be a confounding trial period in which even the umpires will need aspects of the rule explained to them. As usual, writes Paul Hagen of MLB.com, Utley is ahead of the game.
"Phillies second baseman Chase Utley, a heady and hard-nosed baserunner, has already seen the play in his mind. He's rounding third and is about to score a run. The catcher, under new rules intended to eliminate home-plate collisions, is giving Utley a part of the plate to slide for. But the throw begins to tail away ..."
"'And the catcher has no choice but to be in front of the plate. As the runner, you know you can't hit him. Now you've put yourself in a vulnerable position to possibly get hurt,' Utley said Thursday at Bright House Field. 'I can just visualize a play develop where there's no choice but to make contact. So we'll see what happens.'"
"We'll see" is about as close as you can get to reassurance. The rule change is a good one, Ryne Sandberg supports it, but will require some adjustments, especially for players like Utley, whose collide-first-don't-answer-questions-later has gotten him noticed before by his peers (though the Cubs certainly didn't take the above play personally).
The cracks in baseball always come to light at some point, and you can bet that at some point this season, not only will a run be hotly contested based on where the runner slid or how the catcher did or didn't block him, but eventually it will determine the outcome of a game; and then a post season game. And then we'll get to point fingers and scrutinize the system all over again.
But even then, the rule change will be a positive step. Figuring it out will be annoying, as always, but keeping the players from exploding should always be at the forefront of MLB's causes. Any catcher watching Chase Utley barrel toward them with that look in his eye undoubtedly thanks them.