The 2020 season, using Covid-19 as an excuse, became a testing ground as Major League Baseball (MLB) decided to alter the game, modify it, even more than they have over the last few decades. And now MLB has implemented even more changes. Some I like. Some, I don’t like, but I get it. Some, well, some I just don’t get.
Rules have been changed over the course of the game, and the game has evolved over time.
The bases being 90 feet apart has remained constant, at least since 1857. The 90-foot basepath was conceived after trial and error, beginning in the 1840’s and early 1850’s.
The pitching rubber was not always 60 feet 6 inches from home plate. In 1888 overhand pitching was allowed for the first time and that gave the pitchers a big advantage, since they were throwing it from a 50-foot distance. Prior to 1888 pitchers were actually throwing underhanded, softball style. And, up until 1856, the job of the pitcher was not to deceive the batter, but to put the ball where the batter indicated. Believe it or not, a batter would come to the plate and, using his hand, show the pitcher where he wanted the ball to arrive. And later on, about 80 years later on, the mound was lowered after pitching so dominated the hitting during the 1968 season.
So there have been changes even to the basics that we all believed to always be the rules.
MLB began testing the waters when the Designated Hitter was brought to the American League in 1973
I have never been a fan of the DH although some of my favorite players were able to “hang on” thanks to that slot in the lineup. However, it just seemed like there was something not right about it. Each player on the field has a job to do. And once they come off the field, they also have a job to do – hit. True, pitchers are traditionally the weaker hitters in the lineup. But, then, there have been position players who, themselves, have been “automatic outs.” The Mets have had pitchers over the years like Mike Hampton, and more recently, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, who are more reliable hitters than some of the position players available like, say, catcher Tomas Nido.
Seeing Bartolo Colon hit that home run in 2016 was truly something. Some say it was proof that pitchers SHOULD be hitting because they CAN do some damage. Others say that Colon hitting that home run WAS so exciting only because of the expected ineptitude of some players, that it is further proof that they SHOULDN’T be hitting.
Having the DH in one “league” and the pitcher hit in the other, gave us the best of both worlds. But I have always understood how it becomes a disadvantage to the American League team when they were playing in a National League ballpark, often taking their top hitter out of the lineup. And seeing the DH used universally now has almost – almost - convinced me that it may be a good thing for the game.
But there are other MLB rule changes implemented during that 2020 season that I just cAn’t stand
Specifically, starting an extra inning with a runner on second base, although used in the amateur ranks, makes no sense to me on the Major League level, as well as the three-batter minimum for a pitcher.
I absolutely hate the “K” or “HR” philosophy of today’s players. If the game was played like it used to be, with putting the bat on the ball, getting on base anyway you can, there would be no need to start an inning with a runner on second base. Because the reasoning behind it seems to be…it takes too damn long for someone to hit that home run to send us all home.
I also hate that specialist who comes in to face a single batter. Why? When I was growing up, “relief” pitchers threw multiple innings let alone to multiple batters. The great Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, and Hoyt Wilhelm – all Hall of Famers – traditionally came in to throw multiple innings. I always felt like if you were good enough to get to the Major Leagues, earn a spot on the roster, you should be able to be considered good enough to do more than face just a single batter in a game. Now, they are simply forced to face more than a single batter, whether they are good enough or not.
This year begins two more rules with regard to actions from the pitching mound – (1) a maximum of two pick-off throws over to first base and (2) a pitch clock.
A pitcher is only permitted two attempts at a pick-off at first base. After that, it’s a balk. So, let me understand this…I am a base-stealer…so I draw two throws over to first…which I can pretty much easily get back before a tag. And, then, I can simply walk off first base and jog to second? Well, if the pitcher throws over, it’s a balk and I go anyway. So anyone, with any kind of speed…maybe they should just be awarded second base once they reach first. It makes no sense to me.
And, ahhh…the pitch clock. The pitcher get 15 seconds to throw a pitch if the bases are empty, 20 seconds if there are runners on base. And a hitter gets one time at stepping out of the box per plate appearance, and must be in the batter’s box with eight seconds left on the pitch clock.
Really…all of the nonsense needs to stop. It used to be that pitchers got the ball from their catcher, got the signs, and pitched. Hitters dance around the box. Pitchers go through gyrations. Pitch the ball…hit the ball. Stop it! You want to speed up the game? Stop worrying about the walk-up music, the egotistical crap that goes on between every pitch. You wouldn’t need to start a runner on second base in extra innings, you wouldn’t need a three-pitch minimum to speed up the game.
MLB rule change eliminates the ridiculous shifts
Of course it’s not just the shifts…it’s OVER shifting. Shifts have existed forever. Gil Hodges famously sent second baseman Al Weis out to the outfield to be a fourth outfielder in a crucial situation against slugger Willie McCovey during the 1969 season. And it existed long before that. But it was rare to see shifts ever employed because…BECAUSE…hitters were simply trying to hit the ball…to hit line drives…to…wait…hit ‘em where they ain’t. Now, instead, MLB has turned into Home Run Derby. When I see teams deploying the shifts, the extreme shifts, it reminds me of playing Wiffle ball in the school yard. And, because you didn’t have enough kids to field two teams, you would say that anything hit to the right of second base (for right handed hitters) was an automatic out…forcing everyone to pull the ball.
What I don’t understand, what I will NEVER understand, is why the hell wouldn’t players just lay down a bunt? Why? It is better than a strikeout. It is better than hitting a ground ball into the outfield only to be thrown out at first base and seeing a 4-3 on the scorecard as if it were the same as a squibbler to the second baseman. Why not just push a squibbler down the third baseline and get to first base with a base hit? Is it because laying down a bunt is a wound to the ego? Or is it because players come to the Major Leagues and don’t know how? Either way, if that was done, or if players simply knew how to go with the pitch to the opposite field, there would be no need to employ shifts and then make a rule to ban them.
MLB has completely altered the way the game is played
No blocking home plate. No barreling into a catcher. No taking out a second baseman. Avoid throwing on the inside corner of the plate. Doesn’t matter…they wear body armor anyway. Damn rules.
Worried about safety? I understand the concept around the idea of making the bases larger. But how about adding the red bag on the OUTSIDE of the first base line like the amateur leagues? I never understood why you had to run in that “lane” outside the baseline only to cross back into the field to step on the bag. It never made sense to me. Adding the bag on the outside of the line would prevent dangerous collisions and avoid the “subjective” and controversial “out of the baseline” calls that never seem to be called correctly. Now THAT would be a change that actually makes sense.
And then there is an expanded post season adding even more teams. I remember when two teams – TWO TEAMS – made the post season. The post season was THE WORLD SERIES! Okay so they split each league into two divisions and then there were the playoffs to GET to the World Series. And the Mets were World Champions that first year. But then there became three divisions, three division champions, and a wild card entry. Then two wild card entries. And now more. It is becoming diluted just like the National Hockey League.
I remember, oh, when the Mets got hot and stole the National League East title with only 82 wins in 1973. Yes, I cheered when they got past the Big Red Machine and was rooting for them when the got to the 7th game of the World Series against the powerful Oakland A’s dynasty led by Reggie Jackson. I rooted for them, but I believed in my heart that an 82-win team should not be World Series champions. No matter how big of a Mets fan I am, I would have felt it was tainted. And given the way Major League Baseball is headed, there very well could be another 82-win team that actually wins the Series, and, very likely, a sub .500 team that makes the cut, gets hot, and captures a title. Just doesn't feel right.
The human element is all but gone in MLB
One thing I have always loved about the game of baseball has been that there HAS been that human element. The physical and mental parts of the game are replaced by electronics, no different than the joysticks we used when we played Atari or Nintendo.
People applaud the addition of video replay review. And I am all for making sure that the umpires get the calls right. But hasn’t anyone noticed that ever since the “review” was officially implemented that umpiring has gotten worse, not better?
Video tape replay was shown for decades on television. And, more often than not, the replay would affirm the decision made on the field. It wasn’t often that a mistake was made, at least not an egregious one. Perhaps some Detroit Tigers fans would argue that when a perfect game was stolen from pitcher Armando Galarraga with two outs in the ninth inning back in 2010. But, for the most part, video replay showed that umpires pretty much got it right. Now, they pretty much get it wrong. Why not just have the people up in the offices make the initial calls from the beginning? It would eliminate all of that time spent “conferencing” about it. It would certainly speed up the game. But it would also cost a lot of jobs. It’s probably a union thing.
It used to be that you sent a letter to a player – at Shea Stadium, Flushing, New York 11368 – and got an autographed picture back a few weeks later. It was that simple. And FREE! Now? You have to stand in line and pay a fee to get an autograph. And it’s a shame that some former players are forced to hawk autographs just to earn a living, in an age when players are asking for $40 MILLION dollars a year just to show up.
The game of baseball has changed. It has evolved. But at what point does it stop being the game of baseball, the game we recognize? Change is good. There’s always room for improvement. Until what you know, what you love, ceases to exist.