Let’s take a break from beating up on Tony Evers and Robin Vos, to lob some high hard ones at Rob Manfred.
The Commissioner of Baseball (also known as The Lackey of the Owners) opined the other day on some rule changes that might come or go. The issue is an important one for the game because the owners’ agreement with the players expires on December 1st. Let’s hope Manfred can head off a lock-out, but barring that, the new agreement might contain some significant changes to the game.
Now, let me stipulate upfront that, while a moderate in my politics and in most other aspects of life, I’m a reactionary when it comes to baseball. I don’t like change. I am against “progress” in all its forms. If God had wanted there to be a designated hitter he would have told Abner Doubleday.
So, Manfred is right when he says that the seven inning double headers and the runners on second to start extra innings have to go. In fact, why they didn’t go after the COVID season is beyond me. Those rules didn’t make a heck of a lot of sense even during the height of the pandemic. The idea was to limit the amount of time players spent around each other. But did it really make any difference if players spent 14 innings in close proximity as opposed to 18? And the runner on second shortened games by all of about five minutes. Away with these abominations!
But these two “changes” are just going back to the rules as they were and should be. Manfred is talking about making two other rule changes that would pervert the game. These must be smothered with a pillow as they sleep.
The first change would outlaw the shift. When I was a young Brewer’s fan the team had a manager named Dave Bristol. Bristol figured out that, for left handed batters, the shortstop was on the wrong side (duh). So, he would often move his shortstop to play between first and second against lefties. It was called the “Bristol Shift” and he was widely mocked for this. Turns out he was just ahead of his time.
The Bristol Shift was crude, based only the manager’s gut feelings about particular left-handed hitters, and involving only the shortstop. Today’s sophisticated shifts are governed by reams of data that dictate where a handful of players might position themselves. It’s also deadly effective. Some fans get frustrated when they see a well struck ball that should be a hit fall into the glove of a perfectly placed fielder.
But that’s just part of the game. And, in fact, it opens up a whole new set of strategic questions to think about. To require that players stand in a circumscribed space limits managers’ discretion and removes a whole set of strategic considerations from the game. After all, all this analysis only produces odds and probabilities. Managers are gambling on every play that the odds will hold up. But they don’t always.
The better answer is to teach batters to hit ’em where they ain’t. Some of these shifts leave huge open spaces on one side of the field. Why can’t batting coaches work with players to go to the opposite field? You get a lot of batters able to do that and, so long shifts.
The second change Manfred is inching toward, like a snake stalking a mouse, is inflicting the designated hitter on the National League. He even had the audacity to refer to this heresy as a “non-radical” change.
The DH? Not radical? Of course not. All it does is reach into the beating chest of the game and rip out its heart. Countless times during a season, NL managers are faced with a choice like this: It’s the middle innings. Their pitcher is going good and his pitch count is in fine shape. But it’s a close ball game. He’s got a runner in scoring position and the pitcher’s spot comes up in the order. Does he keep his ace in the game or does he go with a pinch hitter?
All kinds of factors go into that decision. Who’s he got on the bench to pinch hit? Do any of them stack up well against the opposing pitcher? If he’s going to take his pitcher out of the game, who’s ready in the bull pen and how do they match up against the other team’s batters in the next inning? Is his pen fresh or could they use a rest by getting another inning or two out of the starter?
With a DH, poof, that’s all gone. Literally, it changes the game fundamentally and it alters decisions that impact entire seasons.
But here’s the problem. Owners like the DH because they think it will produce more offense and make the games more exciting, as if baseball was only about scoring and not about defense. In their minds, more scoring means more fans and more eyeballs and, of course, more money for them. Players like it because it will extend careers. Guys who are getting a step slower in the field can still hit, and play another couple of seasons.
And the fans? Well, nobody cares about what the fans think. Us? We’re just the folks who line the owners’ pockets and pay the players. Never mind us.
Baseball is like deer hunting. I’ve always said that if you think deer hunting is about killing a bunch of deer, you’re not a hunter. If you can’t sit for days on end in the cold and never pull the trigger, maybe not even see a deer, then go find another activity. It’s not a video game. Same goes for baseball. It’s not about how many runs get scored. It’s about dozens of strategic decisions in every game, it’s about taking into account the implications for the next game and the rest of the series, it’s about knowing and playing the odds and knowing when to toss all the numbers and go with your gut.
I am a baseball reactionary. Leave the game alone. Change is bad.
Welcome to the 151st consecutive day of posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!