Baseball is back! Though with the way the goalposts keep getting moved, maybe football is back too!
I kid, because, at the 11th hour, as in, right when I started writing this, Major League Baseball decided to expand the playoff field to 16 teams. The top two finishers in each division make the playoffs plus the next two with the best record in each league.
It’s fine. It’s a weird, 60-game season and I’m not going to knock something different because it’s different. Not yet anyway.
Unfortunately, through most of the summer, Major League Baseball mirrored society in ways we wish it hadn’t. Rather than coming together to give COVID-19 stressed out fans something to rally behind, both MLB’s owners and the Major League Baseball Players Association made fools of themselves.
Many fans have placed a pox on both of their houses and vowed they won’t watch games when they resume in earnest. Me? I could never quit baseball.
Today’s Top 5 is about the five things I’m most interested in, good or bad as baseball is back in our lives.
5. Where are the Blue Jays going to play? — Adding to the chaos that has accompanied baseball, the Canadian government has told the Toronto Blue Jays they cannot play at their home field, Rogers Centre, citing COVID-19 cases in the United States and the threat of transmission.
Whether you think this is over the top or not — I’ve been relatively strident about safety measures and COVID-19 and even I think it’s an overreaction — matters not because the Blue Jays currently don’t have a home. A plan to play at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park was nixed by the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Baltimore seems to be the favorite at present, but who knows? Several cities have been bandied about — Buffalo, Omaha, etc. Heck, let’s have them at Bob Warn Field!
Baseball is a sport most affected by the field of play, so it will be interesting to see where the Blue Jays end up and how it influences the AL East race.
4. Extra-inning baserunner — I’m no purist. I can accept new rules and new things in baseball. Most of the changes for 2020? I’m fully on-board with.
One that I’m not in favor of, however, is placing a runner at second base in extra innings to speed up the outcome of games. This is straight out of the NASCAR lucky dog gimmick bag and it should never have seen the light of day. It screws up the integrity of the game. It screws up the statistics of a game that relies on them. (How do you score the extra base-runner? Is he considered a pinch-runner?)
Most of all, it’s yet another concession in the sense that baseball is too enamored with capturing those with a short attention span. Truth is? Most of the fans will never be more than casual anyway and you’re going to alienate long-time fans who pay the freight.
3. Pitcher usage rule — Another rule that many don’t care for is making relief pitchers face a minimum of three batters before they can be relieved again. (Unless the inning ends.)
See, this one, I’m all in favor of. Endless pitching changes do screw up the flow of the game, they artificially shorten your pitching options, etc. The micromanagement of baseball has gotten a bit out of hand, so I’m good with this.
Detractors will say it artificially hamstrings strategy. Again, that’s purist nonsense. Basketball has had illegal defense rules. Football’s defensive rules are almost unrecognizable now from when I first started following the sport. Why can’t baseball change a rule to make the sport better?
2. How will managers manage? — In many ways, it’s an opposite day type of season in MLB. Rosters will be larger at first and shrink as the season progresses, the opposite of the way it typically plays out. (Though expanded September rosters were done away with for 2020 anyway.)
How will managers handle their pitchers given the new rules? Will we see more staff days? Will managers take more chances to win in the regulation nine innings to avoid the lottery of the extra baserunner in extra innings? With a 60-game schedule, and with each game counting for more, will games be managed more like playoff games are?
It’s going to be fun, and oh, there’s one last change that plays into all of this too.
1. DH in the National League — My favorite team (the Brewers) played in the American League for the first 20 years I was a fan. I grew up with the DH. I don’t fear it. I embrace it. And thank God, its time has come in the Senior Circuit too.
Many fans will disagree with me. NL fans are a proud breed. They say NL games have more “strategy”. They have the patience to not complain when a .100-hitting pitcher comes up and attempts to bunt. They never, ever, let you hear the end of it, claiming they play “real” baseball as it was intended.
What a bunch of pretentious bunk. Baseball with the DH is no less “real” baseball than it is with it. It’s used at every level of baseball besides the NL. Where does “real” baseball begin and end anyway? When the mound was lowered in 1969? Was it “real” when African-Americans were barred from the sport until 1947? Was it “real” when ground-rule doubles counted as home runs up until the early 1930s? I’m sure batters from the 1800s, who got to call their own pitches, would be aghast at how unreal today’s baseball would look to them.
I laugh at the “strategy” arguments. I’ve said for years, it’s not “strategy” to work around your pitcher in the lineup, it’s obligation. And the “strategy” of working around your pitcher, applying a double-switch, etc., isn’t some eight-level chess scheme anyway because it can be seen from a mile away by anyone with the slightest baseball acumen. It’s like taking the middle square on the first turn in tic-tac-toe and claiming that it’s “strategy”.
I’m tired of pitchers — perhaps the most valuable commodity any team has — getting hurt trying to play the “pure” way. Most of all? From an aesthetic point of view, who wants to watch pitchers bat? Ninety-five times out of 100 it’s awful. For the ticket I buy, I’d much rather watch someone competent.
All hail in the DH in the National League! I hope it’s here to stay and it likely is as players and owners have been moving in that direction even before COVID-19. Sorry purists.
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