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Bucs' Stewart ponders plate collision proposal

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Major League Baseball Players Association was scheduled to meet with the Pirates after Sunday's workout at Pirate City, as the union makes its tour of the 30 spring camps. There's no doubt that a big part of the discussion will be the proposed rule trying to lessen the impact of collisions on plays at home plate.

Right now, there seems to be opposition among players about implementing the rule without further study. And Pirates starting catcher Russell Martin said he's "90 percent sure" the rule won't be adopted for this coming season.

Chris Stewart, who backed up Martin with the Yankees two seasons ago and signed this offseason to do the same with the Pirates, has his own views on the subject.

"In my opinion, that play has been around the game for so long, we just have to get rid of the malicious intent of some baserunners coming in to try and deliberately hit the catcher and try to knock the ball out instead of making a last-second decision that he has to go through the catcher because the catcher is in his way," said Stewart.

MLB agreed to move forward to establish the new rule late last year and has been studying the matter ever since. But the Commissioner's Office is working on the language of the proposal. With exhibition games set to begin this week across Florida and Arizona, players are evidently still studying that proposed language.

The union for the players must approve any rule change for it to be adopted, and although the umpires are being consulted, their approval is not necessary, said Tony Clark, the new executive director of the MLBPA who happened to be in Pirates camp for a meeting with the team on Sunday as he tours all the spring camps.

"The good thing is we've been able to communicate in some form or fashion with every catcher that wears gear," Clark said. "We have a lot of guys who have not caught who are runners also involved in this discussion. And it's been a very challenging rule to try to navigate.

"We started in conversations with Major League Baseball late last year, and where we are now is in different places. I think the fundamental premise is the same, and that is everybody is concerned about player safety. We're just trying to see how that manifests in a rule, how that rule manifests itself in a game and how it affects the integrity of the game overall."

Stewart said he doesn't like the language that he has been apprised of.

"It's written now that the catcher has to give the baserunner a line to get to the plate," he said. "The runner's job is to slide in, not to create contact. The problem is, though, that if the catcher goes into that line at any point and prevents the runner from seeing home plate, basically, [the runner is] automatically going to be awarded the plate safe. Throws, as you know, aren't always on line. And catchers have to go into that line just to make a play, to get the ball.

"That's just not going to work. That's my personal opinion. Everybody seems to have their own opinion on it. Until we can conclusively all come together on a final rule to put in the books, I don't think we can do anything yet.

"Injuries are part of the game. As long as a guy's intent is not to injure the other player, then it's part of baseball."

Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.
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