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Joe Girardi on concept of mercy rule: ‘I’d probably be OK with it’


Joe Girardi is in his. second season as Phillies manager. (Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire)

Joe Girardi has been supportive of seven-inning doubleheaders and an expanded postseason format, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that the Philadelphia Phillies manager doesn’t hate the idea of a perhaps more drastic idea – a mercy rule.

Last week, six-time All-Star CC Sabathia went on an expletive-filled rant in response to the Yermín Mercedes-Tony La Russa controversy, suggesting that if you expect hitters to stop trying when you’re up by a certain amount of runs, baseball should just institute a mercy rule. Girardi – who managed Sabathia from 2009-2017 with the New York Yankees – doesn’t hate the idea in theory.

“I’d probably be OK with it,” Girardi said after a chuckle. “I think it saves innings or it saves you having to throw a position player, which scares me to death. You always worry about are they going to try to do too much. I mean, you can say ‘Go out there and throw 50 mph’ and then you get a guy that’s gonna hump up or you get a line drive hit off you and you’re not used to it. I think I’d be OK with it.”

Last Monday, Mercedes swung 3-0 and homered off of Minnesota Twins catcher Willians Astudillo, who the team asked to pitch because they were trailing 15-4. Mercedes, a 28-year-old rookie that’s emerged as an All-Star candidate, hit a 429-foot home run off of Astudillo, who threw a 47 mph pitch.

After the game, Mercedes’ manager, La Russa, said that the slugger “made a big mistake,” by swinging under the circumstances. A night later, Twins reliever Tyler Duffey was ejected for throwing a pitch behind Mercedes. La Russa said that he didn’t believe it was “obvious” that Duffey was trying to hit (and/or scare) Mercedes. The league disagreed, as Duffey was suspended for three games, with Twins manager Rocco Baldelli also serving a one-game suspension.

Clearly, there’s a disconnect here, and a mercy rule would seemingly keep most of this from coming into play.

What would a mercy rule look like? It’s hard to know, and even with as many changes as baseball has recently considered (and implemented in some cases), it’s hard to know if Rob Manfred would be open to such an idea.

Last week on Audacy Sports, I pondered the idea of a mercy rule where if one team was down by 10 or more runs after seven full innings, the game would end. The last time a team erased a 10-run deficit or larger to win was in June of 2016, when the Seattle Mariners won 16-13 over the San Diego Padres after trailing 12-2. Even in that game, though, the Mariners were winning by the end of the seventh inning. If you haven’t made a move to get under a 10-run deficit by the end of the seventh inning, a comeback probably is not going to happen for you.

Of course, fans pay for nine innings, as do advertisers. Playing the full nine innings is probably still the best scenario, even if it means that a position player has to pitch for the trailing team. It’s hard, though, to say that a mercy rule would go against the competitive spirit of baseball, but then tell one team that they have to stop trying once they’re up by a certain amount of runs.

As far as the Mercedes-La Russa controversy, Girardi – who briefly played for La Russa in St. Louis in 2003 – didn’t want to get into how he would have felt if he was involved in the White Sox-Twins game. You do come away with the sense, however, that he’s perhaps not as much of a stickler regarding baseball’s unwritten rules.

“I don’t really want to get into that,” Girardi said. “[There’s] generational differences with these unwritten rules. Maybe in baseball we should just specify what you’re allowed to do and not do. Maybe that would work better.”

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