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Joe Girardi still 'in the dark' on new home plate rules

Yankees have seen a few potential violations so far, but haven't benefited
04/18/2014 10:33 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Joe Girardi and the Yankees have yet to see the new home plate rules actually enforced.(AP)
The new rules about catchers blocking home plate have been the talk of Major League Baseball this season, even more so than the implementation of expanded instant replay.

The New York Yankees have seen the effects of both sets of changes in the first three weeks of the season, and while manager Joe Girardi at least understands the system behind replay, he's still in the dark about the home plate rules.

Girardi and MLB executive vice president of baseball operations Joe Torre had a brief chat during the season's opening week in Toronto, one stemming from an incident on April 5 that may have cost the Yankees a run. Francisco Cervelli was called out on a play at the plate, but it appeared to the naked eye -- Girardi's, at least -- that on the play, Toronto Blue Jays catcher Josh Thole was violating the part of the new rule that prohibits catchers from standing in front of the plate to impede a runner's path if they don't have possession of the baseball.

Girardi tried to make his case with the home plate umpire, and while the officials agreed to huddle, no change was made. Cervelli was out, and the Yankees skipper was mad.

"I wanted to protest the game because of the rule," Girardi said after that game. "Maybe it was a misinterpretation of the rule. But, no, I'm not allowed."

More than 10 days later, he's still in the dark about what is or isn't legal, and still waiting for Torre -- or anyone, for that matter -- to figure out some kind of cut-and-dried guidelines.

"It seems to be a difficult timing call in a sense to make -- when is it considered blocking the plate?" Girardi asked when questioned about the topic on Wednesday. "I think that it's going to be the thing talked about the most, because there is no clear-cut answer on what is considered blocking the plate right now."

The Yankees could have had a similar situation in the first game of Wednesday's doubleheader, specifically on Dean Anna's fourth-inning sacrifice fly. Chicago Cubs catcher John Baker appeared to set up in front of the plate well before outfielder Justin Ruggiano's throw reached home -- even if Girardi said from his vantage he thought Baker was "a little behind the plate" -- and Brian McCann ended up sliding into Baker slightly and scoring through a hole in Baker's legs.

No harm no foul, as McCann was safe and neither player was any worse for wear, but it was a situation where something could've been said and nothing was.

"It's a judgment on the umpires, if they feel catchers are impeding the runner's path," Girardi had said of the rule prior to the game. "Let's say you're straddling the plate towards the third-base line, and you catch the ball 40 feet before the runner gets there -- were you really blocking home plate? No, you weren't. So now what if it's 20 feet, or 10, or five? That's where I guess they have to try to iron this out."

The chaos doesn't make things any easier on the ex-catcher when it comes to how to train his current backstops to avoid breaking the rules, but all he can do is try to instill the "don't block the plate" mantra as best he can.

"It's up to the umpires, so it's difficult what to tell your catchers, but we all know that it's a rule in its beginning stages, so I'll teach my catchers to do it the way they're supposed to do it and go from there," he said. "We've talked to them about what they're allowed to do. They're not allowed to block home plate without the ball. We're probably going to have to go through some examples before we know what is considered blocking the plate, and there's probably going to be an instance where they're called for it and someone's going to ask 'why this one and not another,' but I will continue to teach them to not block home plate without the ball."

And if somehow the Yankees get affected in some negative manner by any umpire's looser (or stricter) interpretation of the rule?

"I know it's an instinct and will happen time to time. The rule in and of itself is a good idea, it's just going to take people some time to adapt to it," Girardi said. "Obviously you'd like to have it ironed out, but it's not, so we live with it and move on."

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