MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs don’t know what to expect until the next collision at home plate.
Carlos Villanueva always has opinions, but the veteran pitcher withheld judgment – even after helping shape the new rule as part of the Major League Baseball Player Association’s executive board.
“You can’t really tell how it’s going to work until you actually see it,” Villanueva after Monday’s announcement. “It’s going to be difficult. The instincts tell you if you’re a catcher – block the plate. I can’t see (Yadier) Molina, for example, giving you a clear path to home plate. I just don’t see it.
“Yeah, Yadier’s going to say: ‘Oh yeah, go ahead.’ No, he’s going to bury you.”
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Villanueva joined the conference calls and listened to his union members, who worked with commissioner Bud Selig’s office and implemented Rule 7.13 on an experimental basis for the 2014 season.
Villanueva said the goal is to eliminate “UFC-style” crashes where the runner goes out of his way to bowl over the catcher. It will be another judgment call for the umpires, who can call the runner safe when a catcher doesn’t have the ball and sets up a roadblock anyway.
“I’m more of an old-school guy,” Villanueva said. “(My attitude’s more): Just leave it how it is. But at the same time, I heard a couple of opinions from other catchers (who) wanted a little bit of cushion, a little bit more protection back there. It’s their career and one blow can take you out of the game. I understand that, too. We’re all about protecting our players.”
Buster Posey’s broken leg has been viewed as a kind of tipping point in the negotiations. Scott Cousins – a journeyman outfielder with the Florida Marlins at the time – bulldozed the San Francisco Giants catcher in 2011.
“Teams also wanted to protect the Poseys and the guys that make a lot of money,” Villanueva said. “If it happens to somebody else, would it have gotten the same attention and effect? I don’t know. Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn’t have, but it can’t change the fact that it did happen to him and it affected the team in a big way.
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“He came back and won the MVP (in 2012). That tells you how good he is. You don’t want one of the most important members of your team (to) be lost for a year or more because of something that can be avoided.”
Eli Whiteside – the backup catcher who watched from the Giants dugout and replaced Posey that night at AT&T Park – is in Cubs camp on a minor-league deal.
“They just kept replaying it and replaying it and replaying it,” Whiteside recalled. “It was tough for everybody, (but) it is part of the game and people get hurt all the time. Hopefully, something like that doesn’t happen again.”
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That’s why Villanueva won’t pay too much attention to the language now, waiting for the response from Molina and the St. Louis Cardinals.
“We’ll see in the heat of the game how it goes,” Villanueva said.