Tony Gwynn Jr. would be happy to follow the rule.
If he only knew what the rule was.
“I think that nobody really knows what the rule is, honestly,” Gwynn said.
Gwynn was at the center of a controversial play Sunday afternoon that cost the Phillies a run and infuriated both Gwynn and manager Ryne Sandberg.
Gwynn led off the sixth with a single and tried to score on a double by Chase Utley. Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria’s relay throw from left-fielder Christian Yelich reached catcher Jeff Mathis just before Gwynn did.
But Mathis blocked the plate with his left leg outstretched, Gwynn slid right into him -- like he’s been instructed to -- and he was called out.
Only problem: A new major-league baseball rule prohibits catchers from blocking the plate if they don’t have the ball.
“Mathis is blocking the plate the entire time, even as he’s waiting for the relay throw,” Gwynn said. “As it was explained to me, because I hadn’t started my slide yet before he got the ball, he’s allowed to block the plate, but that’s not how it was explained in spring training.
“So I think there’s going to be a lot of [confusion] until there’s a definitive interpretation of what that rule is.”
As it turned out, the play didn’t cost the Phillies the game. Utley homered in the bottom of the eighth to give the Phils a 4-3 win and a sweep of their three-game series with the Marlins at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay).
But what really got the Phillies angry is that baseball instituted a rule that isn’t being interpreted consistently.
Gwynn said if he had known Mathis would be allowed to block the plate, he wouldn’t have slid right into him, he would have slid to the right of home plate and tried to smack the plate with his left hand.
“You don’t know exactly what the umpire’s looking at,” Gwynn said. “The last thing I want to do is run the guy over, I’m ejected and suspended, possibly fined.
“We’re told to slide directly into home plate, so that’s what I did, thinking we should get the call based on what was going on.”
Sandberg challenged the out call based on his belief that Mathis was illegally blocking the plate.
But the challenge was denied by league officials in New York.
And Sandberg still doesn’t know why.
“I thought the catcher did not give the baserunner a lane,” he said. “He didn’t give him a view of home plate and I saw the replay and I still say the leg was blocking, so Gwynn did not see home plate, did not have a lane to the plate.
“I felt like Gwynee had to alter his slide a little bit, alter his path a little bit, because his leg was blocking it.”
Gwynn picked up three more hits in his third straight start in place of Ben Revere in center, raising his average to .353.
But all he talked about after the game was the play at the plate.
“The whole point [of the new rule] is to protect the catcher so they’re not getting demolished without being able to protect themselves,” he said.
“There also needs to be some sort of protection for the runners, so we’re [not in] no-man’s land as far as knowing whether we need to dive, slide, go around, go through. Somebody’s going to get hurt, and it’s probably going to be the runner.”
Gwynn said nobody has shown the players any sort of official video explaining what is allowed and what is not allowed.
“It’s all been one of the coaches or somebody showing us physically the movements, none of which – as it was explained to us – is there ever a point you’re allowed to have any foot, glove, leg in front of the plate before you have the ball,” he said.
“And to me clearly that was the case, but apparently in New York it wasn’t.”
Sandberg said he’s not opposed to a general rule that protects catchers. He just isn’t happy with the way it’s currently being enforced and interpreted.
“To take away the baserunner taking out a catcher for injury reasons, I do like it,” he said. “But there’s a little bit of a gray area there, I believe.”
Gwynn said what bothers him the most about all of this is that now doubt enters the baserunner’s mind as he’s getting close to home.
Once you’re out there thinking, you can get into trouble.
“Absolutely,” he said. “There’s like a five-feet radius there where you have to make a decision whether you’re going to slide or run him over or go around.
“I don’t like it, only because they haven’t made a definiteive ruling on what you can and cannot do. If there were some absolutes to that rule, it would make it easier for everybody, but because they leave so much descretion to the umpires and whoever’s looking at it, it’s a tough rule.
“It’s too hard to legislate whether a guy’s blocking the plate, whether the throw’s beating him or not. We do have slow-mo, which should help. Except in my case.”