Let me set the record straight and be very clear from the start.
I am a purist. Pure and simple. The older I get, the more certainI become of that fact. I like the game of baseball as it was intended.
I’ve lived with the designated hitter, I’ve watched the mound go up and down, I’ve even been okay with the new-fangled ball parks. But I prefer the Astrodome, old Comiskey and, yes, there’s something special about Wrigley Field and the original Green Monster. When a city (Arlington) gets three new baseball stadiums in one generation, something’s not quite right. If you’re a Texas Rangers’ fan, you’ll have seen the team in three different stadiums in a few years. Stadiums are becoming like candy wrappers or Eveready batteries. Disposable.
But I digress.
Recently, new commissioner Rob Manfred proposed some rules changes. Seems baseball fans are getting older and the sport needs to keep up with the NFL and NBA lest it join other second-tier sports. And, with the contract with players nearing an end and the new CBA on the horizon, now is apparently the time for a — ummm — upgrade.
Although Manfred’s team and owners will be reviewing “anything and everything”, the current regeneration focus is on a few specific, speed-up areas such as:
- Adding a 20-second pitch clock.
- Limiting pitching changes.
- Cutting back on defensive shifts.
- Altering the strike zone.
Why limit shifts? It takes time to check your hitters, communicate to the players on the field and then get them in position. Moreover, it limits — or it is designed to limit — offense. You can even argue that with a regular defensive positioning that many hitters (including Jose Altuve, George Springer and others) would have a higher average without the shift. Fewer holes means fewer hits which means fewer runs and less excitement for fans.
Just five years ago, there were approximately 2,400 shifts by MLB teams. This year, teams are on pace for about 28,000 (Houston is probably responsible for half of those, no?).
Overall, the new rules would target the speed of the game. Apparently games now run about three hours, or 12 minutes longer than just ten years ago. Pitching changes, with specialists being utilized more now than before, and defensive shifts are specifically blamed.
I’m cool with playing the odds and I love the general strategy of baseball’s old-school managers, but I’m not a fan of the specialty stats that lead to crazy shifts, the so-called LOOGY for one batter, speed-up rules that force a pitcher to throw in 20 seconds, etc. Should pitchers — and hitters for that matter — be allowed to stall? No, but if a pitcher doesn’t start his motion in 20 seconds, should an umpire call a ball?
You have to wonder what players like Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb and Ted Williams would think if they saw the game today. Is it really necessary to make changes to America’s Pasttime or is it more important to teach players to play the game better. What about teaching players at a young age how to hit to all fields, how to bunt, how to hit a curve ball, how to pitch inside (without inciting riots).
In other words, why not teach young kids and other how to play the game the right way. Make Casey Stengel proud.
Teach them to hit to all fields, teach them to bunt for heaven’s sake and teach pitchers to pitch like Bob Gibson or Ferguson Jenkins. That is part of the game. That is the way the game was played 40 years ago. Those are the changes that Manfred should be pushing for. Not the rules that will change the game us 50-somethings (and older) have come to love.
Then again, I’m a purist. Part of a dying breed from the old fashioned, old school.