Are the Changes in Baseball Long Term Benefits or Not?
By Greg Lucas
It is true that
the essentials of baseball have changed less than
in any major sport played in the United States over
the last 100 years except for soccer, but that doesn't
mean baseball has been unscathed by modern times.
Consider the use of instant replay on
televised major league games. That was once an idea
that would "never come" if one listened to long time
baseball people. But it is now here and still a work
in progress concerning how extensively it should be used.
For one thing it automatically changes the character
of the game since replay cannot be used below the major league level.
The game is still the same in the minors, colleges and high schools.
It has changed how the game is played in the major leagues.
No longer can "neighborhood plays" be accepted as ways to protect players on the bases.
Now they have to make contact or proper tags or the camera eye will expose them.
Since the camera is the final arbiter plays must be made as the rule book says.
Hard sliding into the bases to break up
plays is now verboten in the majors. It is a safety issue.
Ty Cobb, Pepper Martin or even Pete Rose did not have a vote.
Actually amateur baseball led in this change with the colleges
and high schools already haven banned certain player contact.
The use of analytics has taken over defensive
positioning if not how pitchers are now required to work hitters.
The old In and out, up and down that coaches preached for years has
been replaced by "pitch him where he will hit it into the defense."
Since statistical records show that many hitters are not exactly
geniuses they tend to do just that-hit it into the defense.
And with more defenders on the expected hitting side of second
base the result is more outs off well hit balls than ever before.
Is that good for baseball? Is cutting down on the
number of hits where a good player only succeeds three of ten times
already a positive thing for the sport? This will have to play itself out.
But it is almost a sure thing that if batting averages and runs scored start to go into a free
fall the baseball leadership will try to legislate more offense in the game by limiting shifts.
Maybe two infielders have to be on each side of second base. Maybe a team can play three fielders
on either side, but one of them has to be from the outfield, thus opening up the outer garden.
Who knows, but if hitting trends decline something will be done.
It has happened before. In 1920 the ball was harder because
it did not remain in play as long. It was easier to see.
Hitting, led by Babe Ruth, changed the game. In 1968 Bob Gibson and other pitchers
dominated so the next season the height of the mound was lowered to reduce their effectiveness.
And then the ultimate attempt at adding offense was the introduction of the Designated Hitter
to the American League in the mid 1970s.
While most of baseball uses the DH the jury is still out on
its real value. Originally one of the selling points was to allow famous hitters
who may have lost fielding skills to remain in the game. Of course, not requiring
fans to see a poor hitting pitcher swing the bat was another. But at what cost?
When Billy Martin first managed with the rule in Oakland he found he could leave his starting
pitchers in the game all day if they were doing well enough. He had no strategical reason to
pull them since they never came to the plate.
That worked out great for a year or so, then all his starters began having arm
troubles from over-use. Soon the American League was making more pitching changes than the National
since they didn't have to wait "till the pitcher's spot came to bat" to keep from burning an extra pitcher.
And in the AL many of them were made "mid-inning" since managers like Tony LaRussa fell in love with "match ups."
American League games were now longer and were not attracting the hoards of extra fans the DH had promised.
In fact, for the past 40 years the National League has out drawn on average about
3000 more fans per game than the American League
National League fans and virtually every manager who has ever worked in both leagues
far prefer the NL style of baseball over that of the DH AL by a wide margin. Most players do as well
-especially those "extra men" who see far more playing time in the NL that in the AL where
pinch hitting and double switches rarely are used
But the current generation of younger fans who have
grown up with the DH would almost all vote for the rule to be in both leagues.
They just don't know what they are missing.before the DH, before replay,
before the abolution of the hard slide. It's a different game now, but its
still the best one ever invented even if a lot of folks can't seem to leave it alone.