MLB can’t seem to print rule changes fast enough these days. But at what point does change for the sake of change become a threat to the game?
Major League Baseball (MLB), under the direction of a Commissioner who firmly believes he has a free ticket to speed up the game, has introduced several rule changes that will be tested in the minor leagues this year.
Some will make it to the major leagues, and some won’t. These are not cosmetic changes like the rules governing acceptable logos and shoe types pertinent to player’s uniforms – they are changes that directly affect baseball.
When a new rule is introduced, like the one that purports to limit the shift’s use severely, the game and how it’s played on the field are dramatically impacted.
Similarly, when you begin to tell managers how they can and cannot use their bullpen (the three batter minimum rule), Rob Manfred and MLB is reaching into the dugout dictating how the game must be played by directly influencing in-game strategy.
Some managers and teams are better at employing strategies that employ the best use of their defense and bullpen, which relates directly to wins and losses on the field.
MLB: A Take Your Pick Rule Change
Some MLB proposed rule changes are neutral and surrounded only by controversy stemming from baseball purists who generally do not wish to see any game changes.
The status of the Designated Hitter (DH) in the National League falls into this category. Since the DH will be available for all fifteen teams in the NL, it cannot logically argue that wins and losses will be affected with or without the DH.
However, the crux of the matter is within the wanton realization that baseball is not football or basketball, and it never will be, no matter how many tweaks are made to the game.
Why Can’t Major League Baseball (MLB) Be What It Is?
Baseball was designed as a pastoral game, of which a dictionary definition includes synonyms like idyllic, rustic, and rural.
MLB is the only American sport that plays its schedule during the summer months. In theory, a Saturday afternoon game can last forever as there are no prescribed “sudden death” or overtime limits to a game, like those in football and basketball.
Baseball has survived and thrived with those components in place for more than a century. MLB now reaps yearly revenues upwards of $10 billion each year. In non-COVID years, profits continue to rise along with player salaries.
Exploding local and national television contracts continue to soar, availing even the most insecure small-market teams alive and competitive.
And yet, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred remains on a crusade to introduce change for the sake of change, all in the name of speeding up a game that wasn’t created to be a dash to the finish line in the first place.
MLB vs. NFL vs. NBA
Have you checked lately on the time it takes to “play” a sixty-minute” NFL game? Three hours! That’s the time slot allotted to networks televising a football game these days.
Similarly, I challenge you to watch the last five minutes of an NBA game and tell me it doesn’t take less than thirty minutes to determine a winner with all the time-outs, intentional fouls, “injury” slowdowns, etc.
No one complains. That’s simply the nature of the sport the NFL and NBA have set for themselves. Watch the game or not – they’re not budging.
Why Not Draw A Line Between “Change” And Innovation?
Nothing did more for the sport of baseball than the day Jackie Robinson stepped on the field to break the color-line in MLB.
Similarly came the decision to play baseball under the lights when fans could attend, watch, or view a game in their leisure time after a day’s hard work.
That’s innovation, not change for the sake of change designed to manufacture the “image” of MLB being a 21st Century sport. It is not, and that’s the beauty of the game we still call our National Pastime.
MLB is taking the easy way out by trying to shortcut the hard work it takes to grow the game of baseball when it slices and dices the game on the field to make it more “fan-friendly.”
Simultaneously and through no source of logic, MLB introduces a “new” rebranding of its minor leagues. What does that mean – it means reducing the number of cities through America that (coming this summer) for which a family will no longer have a chance to see minor league games in their hometown.
Done in the interests of reducing its load in supporting minor league baseball (think $$), this one came from MLB headquarters and said a prayer for anyone who disagreed with the edict from on high.
Pick a topic, any topic, and most assuredly, you or I will find things we like as well as other things we’re not sure about or dismiss immediately. Put enough choices in front of us, and at least one is bound to stick to the wall.
MLB: Building A Contrary Marketing Strategy
Realizing that, it appears to be the strategy being employed by MLB today. The assumption being – you (fans, media, etc.) can’t be against everything I say. So, put forth several changes, and the chances are Rob Manfred and MLB will get one, two, who knows when the dust settles.
Be mindful also that Rob Manfred’s legacy is his self-proclaimed dedication to speed up the game. As far back as 2017, he staked out this territory as his primary goal as commissioner.
Give it up now? No way, so we’ll continue to see a wave of contortionist means to change the game (like the “no more than two pick-off attempts to first base) rule soon to be tried in the minor leagues.
Here’s a case that stretches even beyond the bounds of whether or not it’s good for the game because who’s to say what a pick-off attempt is? The umpires? They have enough to handle to do their jobs effectively now – ergo, the “robot home plate umpire” that is being tried this year in the minor leagues, threatening their place in the game.
Where does it end, my friends?
When do we say baseball as we know it today is not action-filled from moment to moment?
Furthermore, when do we say neither is football as it’s played in the NFL with its huddles while the clock is running, endless TV time-outs, and time-intensive replay challenges that take longer than it does for viewers to take a bathroom time-out?
Rob Manfred is not a bad person. But despite his intention to change the game, he is not Happy Chandler, the MLB Commissioner when Jackie Robinson changed baseball’s scope forever.
As an alternative, why not invoke Paul McCartney’s words to () “Let It Be”?
MLB Is Just Fine – Hands Off, Please
Its own engine drives baseball, and it does not need the human hand to manipulate its success or failure.
So, let the players play, the managers manage, and the general managers create the best possible roster for the teams that pay them their salaries.
“Baseball people” will manage the game themselves – because they love the game more than the suits at MLB will ever know. And if they fail, the players are right behind to step in when the see-saw tips the other way.
The trouble is, of course, that Rob Manfred or any future Commissioner can institute rule changes whenever he wants and to a scope he alone determines.
In most cases, they can be challenged by the Major Leagues Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) to no avail. However, until the next round of bargaining comes up for a new contract (December 2021).
My best advice for fans like you and me is to sit back and enjoy the season 2021 will bring us.
Because the rest of it will be fought in a time when MLB and the MLBPA exchange and ultimately agree on a set of rules in a cloak of darkness that will govern the 2022 season and beyond.
Soon, we’ll hear responses from the minor leagues about their evaluation of rule changes thrust on them, often with no warning, this year.
Hopefully, the managers and players will be more than pawns in the game, having illustrative commentary on what’s good for baseball – and what is not – despite the powers above (MLB).