Rob Manfred loves to tinker with the game of baseball. While we rightly revile Bud Selig around these parts for his get-rich-quick contraction scheme, at least you can say the man was a fan of the game. I’m not sure with Manfred. We’ve cried and moaned on these virtual pages to no small extent about the “ghost runner” rule in extra innings, and its impact on the game, but new rules being proposed may be even less necessary.
“Pace of play” is truly a solution in search of a problem. At this point, you’ve attracted no new fans, while alienating, or at least irritating your most loyal and diehard. A pitch clock, slightly larger bases, and a three-batter minimum might bother the purists, but (especially the first two) they really don’t change much about how the game is played.
The new rules being proposed are more egregious—while the still controversial extra-innings rules and shortened doubleheaders have been forced through, at least for this season, there are long-desired rules that are still floating out there. Some are even endorsed by talking heads that don’t truly understand the beauty of the game.
The most egregious of these rules are designed to increase contact, and decrease the three-true-outcomes—and I have to agree, the game is much more exciting when the ball is in play. I don’t know any Twins fan that came of age during the Piranha era that would say otherwise. As a ten-year-old in Illinois during the infamous McGwire-Sosa home run chase, I can’t say that dingers aren’t exciting, but day-in and day-out, small ball is the best. That might be opinion, but its objectively correct opinion.
These rules, however, are completely and totally unneeded. There are better, existing ways to solve this conundrum. The Twins have players on the roster that prove that fact.
Right now, new rules are being proposed to ban the shift (again,) to move the pitching mound back a foot, and to “double-hook” the DH, removing him from the game at the same time as the starting pitcher. These are being sent to the favorite MLB testing gound, the Atlantic league.
But there are much simpler tools in the toolbox. Teach guys to hit for contact, instead of selling out for power. Teach guys to use the whole field, and “hit it where they aint.” Throwback players like Luis Arraez and Willians Astudillo prove that this theory works. It simply needs to be properly incentivized. Moving the outfield fences back, or raising them, is totally-precedented and doesn’t change the way the game is played. Reward guys at arbitration and contract time for batting average and on base percentage instead of raw homer totals. And most of all, reframe the way players think about contact from high-school up. Every kid in their backyard pretends to hit a monster homerun. We need to reframe that into old-school station-to-station baseball. Its a romantic endeavor, but one well-worth investigating for a decade or so, before we completely change the game. Sell kids on the beauty of the game, of the chess match, of the strategy, rather than the highlight moments, and you will create new, tong-term fans.
Rather than continuing to tear apart the game we love—the game that has connected generations for over a hundred years, lets use the game to save the game. We don’t need to make rules to prevent the next Barry Bonds—we need to make rules that encourage the next Rod Carew.