(Blogathon ’16) David Brown- Taters, tobacco and terror: Baseball in the Future

This guest-post is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer are not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

In the year 2025 — if man is still alive, anyway — attending a Major League Baseball game might be very different than what fans experience today. Sound unlikely on the surface? Just look at what’s going on in the news recently. Changes won’t happen overnight, but…

In the year 2025…

• Pitchers, like the great Bartolo Colon, might not hit for themselves anymore in the National League. And not just because Colon would be in his early 50s by then.

• Sluggers like David Ortiz might not dip smokeless tobacco when they stroll the plate. Grab yourself, spit and repeat.

• Fans like you and me might not be allowed to consume ballpark food such as hot dogs, popcorn, peanuts and Cracker Jack because of ISIS.

Taters, tobacco and terror. What in the name of Aldous Huxley is going on here?

Granted, we’re in the annual baseball no-man’s land right now, in which we’ve got more time and less to write about. Free-agency has stalled, spring training isn’t ready yet. We’re caught between seasons and we’ve got writers digging deep into the minutiae.

In other words, the NL isn’t about to adopt the designated hitter in 2016 or 2017. The sight of tobacco isn’t going to disappear from MLB ballparks overnight, no matter that it will be illegal at three stadiums in 2016. And there’s no chance you won’t be able to try the 9-9-9 challenge (consuming nine hot dogs and nine beers over nine innings) in the coming season.

But in another decade, it might be different. Can you handle it?

Anyone who has grown up with baseball over the past 40 years has done so with the DH in the AL and eight-men lineups in the NL. With the introduction of interleague play in 1997 and the elimination of the league presidents, the differences between leagues are not so distinct anymore. The DH is really the only thing. And its existence represents a competition issue. It’s not fair for either side when it comes to regular season or the World Series. Beyond the quaintness of it all, MLB should have one set of rules.

Although he has since “hit the brakes,” on expanding the DH, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is on the record saying that it’s more likely to come to the NL than it was, say, 20 years ago. This is him, via ESPN:

“Twenty years ago, when you talked to National League owners about the DH, you’d think you were talking some sort of heretical comment,” Manfred said Thursday. “But we have a newer group. There’s been turnover. And I think our owners in general have demonstrated a willingness to change the game in ways that we think would be good for the fans, always respecting the history and traditions of the sport.”

While lots of owners, players and fans like the status quo, the quality of hitting among pitchers has really waned. Not that it ever was great. But they can’t all be Madison Bumgarner or Colon, who at least entertains if not produces at the plate.

Smokeless tobacco is in the news because Los Angeles became the third major city Tuesday to ban chaw at ballparks — from municipal Little League fields to Dodger Stadium. Boston, with Fenway Park, and San Francisco, with AT&T, have done likewise. You can’t dip if you sit in the stands or play on the field. Some will complain about government continuing to meddle in individual lives, and they have a point — although worrying about what the NSA does is a little more troubling — but it’s also a public health issue. It’s a disgusting and dangerous habit, and kids don’t need to see ballplayers doing it.

That’s how representatives of the San Francisco Giants look at it — somewhat surprisingly — via MLB.com:

After considering the issue carefully, left-hander Madison Bumgarner issued a statement: “Hopefully it will be a positive thing for us players. It’s not an easy thing to stop doing, but I support the city.”

Manager Bruce Bochy approved of the law.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “I think it can be a good thing. It’s going to be hard to enforce. It’s a tough habit to break.”

Smokeless-tobacco use has been banned in the Minor Leagues since June 15, 1993. Major Leaguers cannot be prohibited from chewing or dipping tobacco without an agreement from the Players Association.

Still, Lenny Dykstra, you know? The sight of a ballplayer putting a pinch between his cheek and gum, hocking a loogie and swinging the bat is indelible. Dipping tobacco, while disgusting, is “baseball tradition,” as John Ferrell put it. It’s ubiquitous with the sport. If it disappeared tomorrow, we’d all be better off. But it would be weird.

The last big change would be the weirdest. No concessions, at least as we’ve come to know them, at the ballpark. Jeh Johnson, the Secretary of Homeland Security, suggested last week that MLB parks could be made safer by not selling food. Marlins president David Samson said as much via ESPN:

According to Samson, Johnson told the group a stadium could be 100 percent secure if additional steps were taken, such as prohibiting fans from bringing any bags and eliminating food and food-services workers. Checking the trunks and bottoms of cars entering parking lots outside ballparks could be another step discussed at some point.

No pitchers hitting. No tobacco. No hot dogs. What’s next? No beer? Baseball in the future sounds fun! When do we get there?

A member of the Baseball Writers Association of America, Dave has worked for CBS Sports, Yahoo, the Northwest Herald, and the Associated Press. He grew up in Chicago and resides with his family in Kansas City.

This guest-post was part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer were not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

 

 

(Blogathon ’16) James Attwood: Slow to Change is Not Always a Bad Thing

This guest-post is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer are not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

Baseball, as we know it, has evolved greatly over the years. Prior to the 1880s, the ball was actually tossed underhand to a “striker”, not a batter, and it was tossed up there, not how the pitcher wished it, but how the striker called for it. There was rarely an outfield fence, and like the flagpole that recently sat in center field in Houston, trees and the like were not uncommon in the field of play. No gloves were used, and catching the ball on a single bounce still resulted in the striker being out. Also, there was only one umpire, and that person sat or stood slightly behind and to the side of play. When calls were contested, sportsmanship was expected to win out. When it did not, the umpire could consult the crowd for input on making a definitive ruling.

Once the game underwent the fundamental change of being played for money in 1871, the gentlemanly nature of the sport took a back seat, and the competitive edge was ratcheted up. Yet, despite all the changes that have taken place, the game has always more or less resembled the one we have now. Baseball has always been a mutable sport. But just how mutable? Sure, all those differences seem extreme when compared to the game we watch now, but the vast majority of changes all came about before 1900. That’s right, the vast majority of changes to the game came within the sports first 45-50 years of play. Over the following 115 years, the changes to play have been minimal, and have come only after the slowest of deliberations.

The biggest, and most fundamentally changing was the integration of baseball with the debut of Jackie Robinson during the World War II era. In 1903 it was determined that foul balls would be considered strikes. In 1910, cork was added to the interior of the baseball, marking the end of the “dead ball era”. Today’s uniform size and weight ball standard was established in 1934. In 1969, a year after pitching dominated the game like no time since 1918, the pitcher’s mound was lowered five inches, a change that was years in the offing and brought to a head by the likes of 30-game winner Denny McLain (the last of the 30-win pitchers) and the ever-intimidating 1968 NL Cy Young winner and HOF pitcher, Bob Gibson. The last big change to come about that was anything other than a technological evolution (machined bats, instant replay, games under the lights) occurred in January of 1973 when commissioner Bowie Kuhn. This new rule, much like the changing of foul balls to strikes was cut from whole cloth and not some gradual evolution, making it one of the biggest changes made to the game in the modern era.

Sure, over the last 30 years, we have added extra divisions, expanded playoffs, gone with interleague play during the regular season, and even made the All-Star Game “count” for something in allowing it to determine home field advantage in the World Series. None of that actually impacts how the game is played though.

Rob Manfred worries for the future of baseball. Manfred’s solution is to “modernize” baseball by implementing some changes to the game. Unlike the previous changes though, Manfred is in a hurry to get there as soon as possible. The minor leagues have already started implementing pace of play rules and pitch clocks. Those rules are likely headed to MLB in the near future. Even bigger though, Rob Manfred wants to take the AL DH experiment and make it a part of both leagues as a permanent part of the game.

This change would indeed “level the playing field” between the leagues, something that is not nearly as skewed as some would like to claim. It would allow pitchers to pitch and hitters to hit. A few extra aging sluggers would get to artificially extend their careers. It would also all but eliminate an entire aspect of baseball that has existed since the earliest days, that of in-game strategy, most notably, that tied to playing small ball.

With all due respect to Madison Bumgarner and the mind-boggling performance he turned in during the 2014 World Series, without the DH there is no way he gets to put on that show. Some might say that allowing the DH both ways only increases the chances of such a performance. Really though, how often is a performance for the ages going to be turned in? How much different does that game playout if the managers, especially Bruce Bochy, has to start worrying about making a pitching change after only 2 innings of Bumgarner? Other than filling out a lineup card and making the rare defensive switch in the 8th or 9th inning, exactly how much influence does a manager’s ability to call a game matter if the game is turned into hitters hitting and pitchers pitching?

Manfred says he wants to appeal to a younger crowd. How many youths will be trying to decide by the time they are 10 or 12 if they want to throw the ball or hit the ball? Part of what has always set baseball apart from the other sports was the number of athletic skills a player needed to be good at all at once in order to excel at the game. Only the very best of the best hitters and pitchers can reasonably expect to go deep into amateur careers and possibly reach the majors if they are not able to, at some point, hit field, run, catch, and throw all with some semblance of authority.

There is a push to possibly have these changes in as soon as 2017. That is an awful lot of fundamental change in a very short period of time. One could argue that NL organizations cold need as many as three seasons to properly align themselves to adopt the DH. As far as pace of play goes, these changes are not cutting significant time off of the game. In many cases, it is under 15 minutes being shaved from the average league-wide. Baseball was never designed for or intended to be consumed by a generation of people looking for and expecting instant gratification. Furthermore, if the DH is adopted across both leagues, scoring will go up, this will erase any pace of play gains made by keeping the game on a clock.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to modernize the game and appeal to a younger demographic. Baseball makes changes of such a magnitude at a glacial pace though. That’s something that should never change. Small tweaks followed by periods of evaluation to determine what is and is not working can have just as big of an impact as those changes that fundamentally change how the game is played.

Regardless, this game will continue to resemble the one I have grown up loving. I will not walk away simply because I can no longer watch a chess game between managers in the dugouts. For a game so steeped in history, and so tied to the identity of all-around athletic excellence, I do wonder if the game could ever “feel” like it always has, or if it will simply feel like a poor imitation.

(Blogathon ’16) Matthew Kory: “My Friend Bud”

This guest-post is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer are not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

*phone rings*

“Ahoy-hoy.”

“Mr Selig?”

“Speaking.”

“Hi! It’s Rob.”

“Oh, you again, Mr. Frost. Stop calling me from beyond the grave!”

“No, no…”

“And while I’ve got you here, you can’t take a road not taken. Taking a road not taken means the road not taken is taken and then it’s a road taken so your poem is stupid and it’s garbage! Go back to the land of the dead, sir, and leave me be!”

“Manfred.”

“Who?”

“Rob Manfred. I took over for you?”

“Look, I don’t know who you think you are, but nobody takes over for Bud Selig!”

“As Commissioner, sir. Commissioner of baseball.”

“Oh! Ah ha! Yes! Rob Manfred. I remember now. I thought you were noted poet Robert Frost calling from beyond the grave. It was an honest mistake. So, what kind of pickle have you got yourself into, Rob Manfred, that you need to call Old Budrick Selig?”

“Budrick?”

“You can just call me Bud.”

“Thank you, Bud.”

“Mr. Selig.”

“Right, sorry. Mr. Selig.”

“So, what kind of pickle have you got yourself into?”

“Well, you see there’s this whole DH thing…”
“DH thing? Well I have to ask right off the bat, why are you shouting when you say DH?”

“I’m not shouting, DH is capitalized because it stands for Designated Hitter.”

“DESIGNATED HITTER?”

“Yes, but again, no need to yell.”

“Well, Manfred, the way I see it is one designated hitter (quiet enough for you?) is enough. Copying the NFL is a great way to go in almost all instances, but maybe this is one where we don’t want to go quite all the way.”

“Sir, I’m talking about adding the DH to the N… uh, national league.”

“Adding it, eh? Well. That’s quite a suggestion. Baseball is a game of history, Manfred. A game of history. And you just don’t go monkeying around with history.”

“Sir, you monkeyed with history quite a bit during your time.”

“Well right. That’s me though. I’m infallible.”

“In any case, do you think I should give the DH to the National League?”

“That’s a toughie, Manfred. A real toughie.”

“Sure is.”

“zzzzzzz”

“Mr. Selig?

“zzzzzzz”

“Mr. Selig!!”

“Dammit Lincoln this isn’t the theater.”

“Mr. Selig, I’d like an answer.”

“What, oh, sure. Fine. The answer, Manfred, is that the job is yours now. The decisions are yours as well. Also it’s baseball. It’s a game. So what if you change the rules a little bit now and again. Keeps it fresh. Keeps it current. Sometimes change is the best medicine. Though you shouldn’t eat pennies. Seriously. I know from experience.”

“But what about the National League owners? What about the fans?”

“Are you seriously telling me people want to watch pitchers hit? Of course they don’t. Paying money to watch pitchers hitting is like paying money to watch ants screw. Very little happens and then it’s over and you’re like, wait what?”

“That’s quite an analogy.”

“Nobody likes pitchers hitting. And they’re terrible at it. We have genuine issues facing baseball, Manfred. Cutting out one of the few bad parts shouldn’t be one of them.”

“Thanks, Bud.”

“Budrick.”

“Budrick.”

“Right. But you can call me Mr. Selig. In any case I’ve got to go. There’s a special on PBS about ants screwing right now that I don’t want to miss.”

Matthew Kory is a writer at many different venues, most recently FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus, and Vice Sports. He’s written about lots of different stuff and googling his name will lead you to either him or a podcast called the Matthew and Kory Show. Litigation is ongoing. You can follow him at @mattymatty2000. He lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife, two kids, cat, and broken dreams.

This guest-post has been part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer were not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.