Spring isn’t quite here yet, but it’s less than two weeks away.
Oh, sure, the Vernal Equinox isn’t until March 20, but I’m talking about the start of baseball. The real beginning of Spring. And, as far as I’m concerned, that’s the day of the first Spring Training game. Not when players begin reporting–which was Sunday, by the way–because unless you’re in Arizona or Florida you can’t take part, not even electronically. Nobody broadcasts pitchers stretching their arms, position players taking fielding practice, or batters in the cage.
Nor is it when the first official games are played, because that’s the start of Summer. “Boys of Summer,” right? Gotta sneak Spring in there somewhere. It’s particularly bad this year, with the Mariners and As starting the season in Tokyo. That’s at some ridiculous hour the night of March 19 or morning of March 20, depending on your time zone. Okay, it aligns with the astronomical calendar, but so what? This is religion, not science.
Opening Day for everyone else is March 28, by the way. Which means Spring is going to be only thirty-five days long. But what can you do?
Anyway, yeah, Spring starts with a radio-only game between the Mariners and As on February 21. (The first televised game is the next day, also a Mariners/As contest.) Close enough that we should start seeing the prognosticators popping their heads out of their holes and looking for their shadows any day now.
Too early for me to make any predictions. As usual, I’ll hold mine until everyone’s played an official game. But to tide us through these last ten days, how about a survey of the proposed rule changes MLB and the MLB Players Association have blessed us with this year?
Tweaking the size of the roster. Count me as wholeheartedly in favor of this one. Increasing the number of active players from twenty-five to twenty-six will give teams more flexibility in arranging their lineups, and combining it with a twelve-pitcher limit will ensure that there are enough position players to allow for late game substitutions and pinch hitting. Add in the reduction of September rosters from forty to twenty-eight, and you’ve got a recipe for more consistent play. I’m in.
Fewer mound visits. Shrug. Was anyone penalized for too many mound visits last season? I sure don’t remember it happening. The proposal is to drop the limit from six to three by 2020. I don’t see it making much of a difference.
Bringing the pitch clock to the majors. I’m already on the record as being okay with this one. I haven’t seen any ill effects on the game in the minors, where it’s been in use for several years. I gather the current thought for the major league level is to only use the clock when the bases are empty, which would certainly reduce its impact–no hurried pitches going wild and allowing a runner to score from third. Nothing here compels me to change my position.
Changing the draft to discourage tanking. Um. No. Does anyone really think the Orioles intentionally lost 115 games last year to improve their draft position? Maybe there was some jockeying for the second and third picks. Maybe. But penalizing teams for losing seems more likely to hurt unlucky or injury-prone teams than to discourage teams from punting a couple of games.
The three-batter minimum. Nope, not this one either. All it takes is a glance at football to see why this is a bad idea. Remember when football had a thirty-second injury timeout? There’s a reason the “injury” part got dropped. Why force players to fake an injury to get out of the game? Besides, limiting the number of pitchers should cut down on late game pitching changes, especially with the increase in the use of “openers”. This one feels too much like fiddling for the sake of fiddling.
A complete ban on trades after the All-Star Break. Oh, hell no! Sure, it can be frustrating when your favorite player is traded on July 31, bringing a measly return of minor league players and forcing you to give up on the playoffs. But blocking the trade isn’t going to make your team any better–they’ve already lost enough games that management has given up on the season. The idea goes against roster flexibility and might even encourage tanking. Send this idea to sleep with the fishies.
Lowering or moving the pitching mound. Lower it? Sure. Wouldn’t be the first time, and if it does increase offense, it’ll make games that much more exciting for the casual fan. I wouldn’t want to see the mound eliminated entirely–Walter Johnson, anybody?–but shave it down from ten inches to seven or eight? Not gonna bother me a bit. On the other hand, I’m firmly against moving the mound further away from the plate. Not only would it invalidate 125 years of pitching records, but it would force pitchers to throw harder, risking more arm injuries. And it would mess with hitters’ timing, something they’ve spent their entire lives tuning. My gut says moving the mound back would be more likely to decrease offense than increase it, at least for the first decade or so while we wait for players who’ve played the game since high school with the mound at the new distance. Not to mention that moving the mound would leave the US out of sync with the rest of the world, who are unlikely to want to tamper with that bit of tradition just because MLB has.
Introduce the DH to the NL. I like having the DH limited to the American League. I think it’s good to shake up coaches and players by forcing them to make a strategic change for interleague games. But if this proposal goes through, I won’t cry. Be honest here, National League fans: once you get past “because it’s always been done this way,” the argument against the designated hitter boils down to a love of the “NL style” with its emphasis on bunts and sacrifices. Yes, but. The ninth batter is still (usually) going to be the weakest hitter in the lineup. Nothing says you can’t make him bunt or hit for the sacrifice, just like you do with the pitcher today. Heck, under the AL’s current rules, you can forgo the DH and let the pitcher hit. I’ve even seen it suggested that you could declare the pitcher to be the DH, thus letting him hit for himself and potentially stay in the game to hit when you bring in a reliever. I’m not certain that’s a legitimate interpretation of the rule, but I’d love to see it happen. That said, NL teams generally switch to an AL-style offense when playing in AL parks, which suggests that sacrificing and bunting aren’t winning strategies. Why would you want to see your team playing to lose? (Are we back to the tanking discussion again?)
It doesn’t look like any of these changes are going to be introduced this season. But, as the saying goes, just wait until next year!
Although, on principle, I wouldn’t like any of these changes, at least they’re not as corrosive to the nature of the game as would be having the balls and strikes called by a computer, instead of an Umpire, as God intended.
As you know, this has been seriously suggested, recently, in a misguided attempt to make the game “more fair”, by eliminating the possibility of human error in pitch calls- to which I reply, “over my dead body”.
Or putting runners on base at the start of extra innings.
Baseball, like life in general isn’t fair. No point in trying to make it so, either.
But improve the level of competition, and even increase the excitement level*? If it can be done without tampering with the nature of the game, I’m all for it.
* Not necessary, IMNSHO, but as a code phrase for “attract more people to games,” I can live with it.