Our original blog site at World Series Dreaming dot com has been scrubbed from the internet, so now all you get is us over here. That’s okay, I just spent a few moments watching Game Seven again…at least (until the Chicago Now servers tumble into Lake Michigan or something) we will always have this.
As more people get vaccinated (excepting certain Cubs, kind of disappointing actually) and public safety rules are adjusted, I decided that it was probably a good time to watch the Cubs play in their only trip to San Francisco this season. I really just wanted to be in the ballpark, but the wife insisted that we get good seats for once, so we’re going to be right behind the Cubs dugout on our (probably) one baseball family outing of the year. The Cubs won’t be playing in Oakland this season due to the interleague rotation or else I might actually venture to that waste dump…Oakland has its own stadium issues, which bring me to this:
Look, the city of Oakland has plenty of its own issues to deal with and can use that money more wisely than to help a billionaire’s club (no matter how cheap or broke they appear) pay for a shiny new toy. We’ll talk about the salary stuff later on, but it would be amazing what teams with great baseball minds like the A’s and the Rays could do if they didn’t act like misers. I don’t necessarily know what will happen to some clubs’ viability if MLB were to implement a salary floor, or (Congress forbid!) a minor league wage hike, but I feel like they could forgo their annual new yacht to make sure their investments don’t starve to death?
I think part of what I would do if I were king of the mountain is to better redistribute the wealth in baseball. I’d certainly make it easier for “professional” baseball players (because face it, if you’re in the Minor Leagues or even playing on an independent league team, you’re a professional!) to focus on training and getting better at their craft, rather than having to driving late night Uber shifts. It is also no secret that free agency has gotten stagnant and stupid over the past few years after the Players Union basically got hosed on their last negotiations, which is why we’re keeping an eye on the upcoming labor talks as the current collective bargaining agreement expires after this season. And this is a pretty nice segue into today’s topic, as well as this quick breakdown of what is currently ailing baseball.
In that ESPN article, there are several key points, and I think you would be better served reading the meat of it for yourself. I found it very cool that smart baseball people who do this for a living actually are observing the same things that I am (as an admittedly non-expert who just follows along as a hobby). From the headers:
- Baseball must decide what it really wants baseball to be
- Can MLB and the MLBPA actually get along?
- The new CBA needs to address the root of MLB’s competitive-balance issue
- MLB must find one set of rules — and stick with them
- Time of game vs. pace of play
- The pitchers are just too darn good
- Do we really need all those relievers?
- It’s time to address the shift
- The next generation is here, now MLB must sell it
- But highlight all the great things baseball is — not what it isn’t
- Enough with the unwritten rules already
- True power should reflect the talent on the field
- MLB must let people, you know, actually watch the games
- MLB must invest in getting more kids from all backgrounds playing baseball
I am going to talk about the bolded items a bit later on, but everything else is important too. I will let more resourceful folks talk about trading draft picks, truly “free-market” baseball economics, and potential salary caps/floors, because at some point MLB and its players needs to figure out a more equitable way to compensate the product on the field and to recruit the next generation of great talent. As for the unwritten rules, David Ross had some good points about using a mercy rule (which I don’t actually like for pro sports, but I understand) and I was also considering the idea of a forfeit, because when the manager puts in a position player, it is basically a forfeit anyway so why bother even playing the rest of the game? Then again, it is kind of fun to watch Ben Zobrist strike out Yadier Molina, or Anthony Rizzo striking out Frederick, I mean Freddie Freeman. Just don’t expect the other team to give up just because you did!
I also strongly agree with the need for outreach and to make the game accessible to players who otherwise would just play basketball or football. There’s a very logical reason why you don’t see a lot of black kids playing baseball and hockey nowadays, and it has a lot to do with finances. Baseball would benefit from an infusion of talent from sources that aren’t derived just from the more financially fortunate pools. Also, it would be kind of cool if we could actually watch the games. MLB.tv around here (San Francisco Bay Area) blacks out Giants and A’s games, and the Marquee app won’t work because I’m not local to the coverage area, so I haven’t been able to watch much live sports since I cut the cord. I recognize that was a personal choice, but it shouldn’t be that hard to set up a team-specific package that isn’t blacked out, right? And I know if you’re from Iowa, you know what I’m talking about!
As for the actual rules themselves, let’s hear from an actual MLB manager first:
Maybe you’re not the biggest fan of Don Mattingly, and like certain other managers, he might sometimes have some old school ideas that rub people the wrong way. But I don’t hear anything wrong from what he said. Even as a die-hard baseball fan, I can admit that the huge lulls in action are boring, and the relative lack of balls in play are annoying. Double-digit strikeout games are great, and so are no-hitters. But when they happen almost daily, that is a huge problem, and based on what Mattingly said, it’s not just a problem for keeping the fans interested, even the players and managers are seeing it too.
The good news is that MLB realizes their product might be getting stale, and have great minds led by Theo Epstein to try to figure things out. New experimental rules are being tested in the minors and indy leagues, and one of the more interesting rules deals with increasing the number of stolen bases:
I come from the school that believes baseball is better when the hitter can hit it where they ain’t and run amuck on the basepaths. I also don’t much mind the spectacular defensive play, but both of those things can only happen when the hitter can make good contact. Basically, baseball needs more balls in play. It is apparent to everyone who’s watching, particularly those who are familiar with the Pitching Ninja, that pitchers are miles ahead of hitters right now. And given how crazy some of these pitches move, and the fact that they originate from the same release point and how tunneling works, it’s actually amazing that anyone can make contact these days. I mean look at this inning for the Cubs, all of the balls in play stayed in the yard and Cubs were running wild, that was FUN!
What would I do if I were king? This might take a while, as my thoughts continue to evolve, but let’s give it a try anyway… *cracks knuckles*
Limit the Shift. I imagine a sort of imaginary line that goes along the diagonal that intersects home plate, the pitcher’s mound, and second base. There is a “demilitarized zone” that is six feet to either side of that line, and defenders are not allowed to occupy this zone until the pitch is released. The third baseman and shortstop must stay to the left of this line, and the second baseman and first baseman must stay to the right of this line until the pitch is released. No infielder may stand beyond the infield dirt/grass boundary until the pitch is released. The goal is to allow more balls in play to get through, because more baserunners means more potential action and more stress for the pitcher to subsequently allow more balls in play, especially if the baserunners are not more likely to try to steal a bag.
Lower the mound. Make it flat ground if you have to! Take away at least some of the pitcher’s advantage. They’re already throwing 100+ miles per hour, I’m sure they can manage, but this is what happened the last time pitchers got a bit too good.
Enforce the pitch clock. Minor league games are already doing this. Make it so that the pitcher has less time to scratch his nuts or whatever, because less recovery time means less opportunities for max effort and potentially more opportunity to get a ball in play. Maybe even enforce something like this when runners are on base, I dunno, but it shouldn’t take over a minute between pitches sometimes!
Automate the strike zone. I talked a bunch with Harry about this once, and back then I don’t think the technology was good enough. I should probably ask about this again, because umpires seem kind of blind at times (even back then!) and I think hitters would have more success if they could have a better idea of what a true strike zone is. I don’t think it needs to shrink, because then all the batters would just walk as the pitchers try to nibble and miss, but a textbook definition of the zone would be helpful to everyone on the field.
Limit Reliever Usage. I know about the third time through penalty and all that, but there needs to be some kind of incentive for managers to leave their starters in for at least six innings. This would reduce the carousel of pitching changes. I do like the three-batter minimum rule as I don’t believe baseball should allow matchups for every occasion (sometimes you just have to deal with a bad matchup!), but I do think that pitchers should be completely warmed up and ready to go when they get to the mound. Reduce the number of on-mound warm-up tosses, or make the reliever sprint in like that goofball John Rocker used to do.
Universal Designated Hitter. Knowing that the pitcher is a nearly automatic out (unless he’s Shohei Ohtani!) is very disheartening. They don’t even have pitchers hit in National League affiliate games in the minors, so what’s even the point anymore? Plus they seem to get hurt when they’re not pitching (poor Justin Steele), and that’s an additional injury risk on top of the potential for their arms to explode on some of those high-90s pitches. Get someone in the box who actually wants to be there!
I’m sure there are more tweaks to be offered, but for those who are steadfast against changing because of tradition, remember that once upon a time, nobody threw overhand and it took nine balls to get a walk. I’m in favor of any rules that allow Javier Báez to continue to do El Mago things.
Oh, if you’re interested in being a guest on the Dreamcast (I’ll revive it sooner or later), please let me know. It helps if I already know you, but I’m always happy to make a new friend. Also, let me know what you think about rules tweaks or tell me I’m crazy in the comments. Thanks!