MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at San Francisco Giants

Baseball took the final tentative steps to effect real change in their game this week as the home plate collision rule finally received the endorsement of the players union. The rule set off discussion all around the league, as players weighed in on the new legislation. (Read about the full rule and implementation here.)

For better or worse, Buster Posey is the face of this rule change. Though it is an association Posey explicitly did not want, in the minds of many fans and players, it is the injury suffered to one of the game’s finest player that motivated the removal of home plate crashes from the game.

Buster Posey famously broke his leg in a collision with Scott Cousins of the Marlins, a play for which Posey received more than a small amount of a criticism for his positioning. Had he set up properly, some argue, he wouldn’t not have rolled back on his leg and suffered the injury that ended his 2011 season early.

The real reason for the new is greater safety, of course, but concussions remain the biggest driver of this type of rule change. Concussions are the hot button issue and working to eliminate them from the game is an easy PR win.

When reached for comment on the official wording of the new rule, Posey demurred at first. He told Giants’ media he wished for clarification on a few items. One day later, he made his feelings known.

“It eliminates the malicious collision, which is a good thing…I don’t see it as being that drastic of a change, I guess. I think the hardest part is going to be for the umpires really, to make a judgment call sometimes when there is a collision, what the intent of the runner was.”

Despite shying away from the “Posey Rule” label, Buster and his manager, Bruce Bochy, were consulted on the shape and application of the new rule.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny knows Posey’s plight all too well. His career came to a premature close after a concussion, and he too avoided taking on a role as the face of concussion rule changes in baseball. But Matheny’s position changed and the Cards bench boss was happy to help usher in a newer, safer game for backstops.

The entire Cardinals organization appears eager to get in on the ground floor for catcher safety, implementing a “must-tag, must-slide” organizational edict for all plays at the plate. St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak and Matheny both expressed some disappointment in the new rules, hoping they would have “more teeth” and take greater steps to protect players.

The players decide if this rule has any discernible impact on the way the game is played. Some catchers, like Posey and Yadier Molina of the Cardinals, long used sweep tags in lieu of standing their ground on the baseline before they catch the ball.

The integration of the new rules won’t be pretty. There is so much room for interpretation and umpire judgment, never a good thing as players grope for a new standard or middle ground. Which is to say little about a way to reduce concussions sustained through repeated exposure to high-speed foul tips.

Ben Lindbergh wrote a nice piece for Grantland today, going over the full extent of threats to catcher safety. All of which points out that preventing injuries to catchers is a long slog, not something fixed with the first draft of an untested rule.

As stated last October in this space, changing the culture is the first hurdle to clear. As MLBPA head Tony Clark spreads his message on the removal of “malicious intent”, we can only hope that (a certain segment) runners are able to adjust their goals from “dislodge the ball” towards something closer to “touch the plate.” And as said before, the catchers play a role in this paradigm shift. There must be plate to touch, even if it requires an extra bit of athleticism to pull off.

It’s a start. It is a rule which requires buy-in from the players and consistent application by the umpires. The first time a base runner is called out for reaching the plate “safely”, it won’t go over well. But the growing pains are necessary for the game — and its players — to survive and thrive.

Buster Posey doesn’t deserve to be the “face” of this rule change. Despite what Eric Kratz thinks, his leg bones count just as much as Posey’s. But if prolonging the career of great players like Buster Posey, Salvador Perez, and Joe Mauer is the bi-product of this rule, then all baseball fans need to support it. The competitive issues will work themselves out over time, hopefully the safety benefits don’t play second fiddle to an outdated relic of a bygone era.