Royals manager Ned Yost, who caught for three teams in six seasons as a major-league player, refused to accept the role of sitting duck on plays at the plate.
“When you had time, I always took the opposite thought on a runner,” Yost said. “I’m going to inflict as much damage and pain on you as I could. I’m fully equipped and protected.”
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Either the catcher or the runner could get the brunt of the blow.
“It worked both ways,” he said.
But baseball has tweaked a rule, limiting collisions. They’ll be allowed only if the catcher has the ball and is blocking the runner’s direct path to home plate, and if the catcher goes into the base path to field the throw.
Also, a runner can’t go outside the pathway to the plate to initiate contact with the catcher in an attempt to jar the ball loose.
Instant replay, which will be expanded this season, can be used to determine if the rule was violated.
After a Tuesday review of the rule with coaches, Yost said little has changed.
“You can’t barrel into a catcher, everything else is basically the same,” Yost said. “They’re protecting the catcher is what they’re doing.”
Support for reducing collisions has a visual. In May, 2011, Giants catcher Buster Posey broke a bone in his lower left leg after a collision with the Marlins’ Scott Cousins. Posey, among the game’s bright young stars and coming off a Rookie of the Year season, was finished for the year.
Royals’ Gold Glove-winning catcher Salvy Perez doesn’t believe the rule will have a big impact on him.
“My idea is to be a little bit in front of the plate waiting for the ball,” Perez said. “I don’t think this is a big change.”
At 5 feet 9 and 160 pounds, outfielder Jarrod Dyson, the Royals’ fastest player, wouldn’t likely win many collisions. But he said the catcher is the beneficiary.
“They’re not doing this for the runner,” Dyson said. “Man, all I’m trying to do is get there safe and sound. And most times when I take off I feel like I’m going to get there. If a catcher blocks the plate without the ball, it should be counted as a run.”
It will be. Under the rule, the runner is safe if the catcher blocks the plate without the ball.
There’s no telling what the call would have been during a game in the early 1980s when Yost, bracing for contact, saw the Yankees’ Bobby Mercer bearing down on him.
“He nailed me one time,” Yost said. “I knew it was coming. Tie game in the eighth inning, medium fly ball to left field.”
Yost got hit so hard by Mercer he might have suffered lost memory, except a New York daily newspaper captured the moment in a three-photo sequence.
“I was blocking the plate, and I knew I was going to get it,” Yost said.
The first photo showed Mercer and the ball each about a foot away from Yost. The second captured Yost with his mask pulled forward by the force of Mercer’s blast. The third was Yost flying backwards.
“That little sucker hit me as hard as I’ve ever been hit,” Yost said. “I’ve been hit by Lance Parrish, Don Baylor, big guys. But nobody hit me harder than Bobby Mercer did that night.”