By Terry Cushman – @cushmanMLB
As an avid (or obsessive) fan of baseball for several years, I was curious to see what changes Rob Manfred might have in store for Major League Baseball after Bud Selig retired. Manfred was the muscle behind Selig’s crusade to take down steroid users in MLB. The most notable player Manfred systematically exposed, sanctioned, and defeated was Alex Rodriguez. So as an obsessive (I may as well admit it) fan of the sport, it was AT LEAST encouraging that Rob Manfred seemed to hold the INTEGRITY of MLB in the highest regard. However, going on three years now with Rob Manfred as the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, I’m absolutely horrified at some of the changes he is trying to make.
Most of the changes Manfred wishes to make are centered around his mission to speed up the pace of the game. Admittedly, we Red Sox fans have sat through several nearly five hour tactical bullpen wars with the New York Yankees. But by and large, I don’t see many baseball games lasting longer than a few hours, which is about on par with the length of coverage on most sporting events (i.e. Football, Basketball, Hockey).
Some of the changes Manfred has considered and/or proposed is implementing a pitch clock for pitchers on the mound. Last season he announced that MLB was exploring the possibility of mandating that every single team can only use one single pitcher to get all three outs per inning without the team being allowed to make a single change DURING the inning if need be. And just yesterday it was announced that Manfred would likely seek approval from the MLB Players Association to raise the lower part of the strike zone two inches. These latter two changes horrify me especially.
The motive for Manfred to take the step of limiting relievers per inning is because bullpens have become so specialized with certain righty/lefty relievers designed to get specific batters out. So basically it’s inhibiting offense in the later innings. Not to mention the extra time required to make pitching changes should they occur during the middle of the inning. But at heart of the matter, it takes the game out of a manager’s hands, and prohibits him from utilizing his team to the best of their ability, as well as their natural abilities. It could also open up a whole new can of worms where if a pitcher is forced to pitch 40-50 pitches because he is having too great of a struggle in getting three outs, he could be susceptible to injuries, which could then have drastic consequences on whether a team makes the playoffs or not. No matter how Manfred tries to pitch this proposal, saving 10-15 minutes per game by implementing this is NOT worth the drastic alteration or consequences that could become of it. It’s simply not.
The motive for raising the strike zone two inches is strictly to boost offense, but that too could have an extremely negative impact on teams. Take David Price for example. He has had a brilliant and DOMINANT career in the regular season by dotting the lower corners of the strike zone with his fastball. If Major League Baseball gets their way, and gets approval to raise the strike zone, David Price will be STRIPPED of his most powerful weapons. What’s equally worse is that the Boston Red Sox will be stuck paying him $31,000,000 a year to be the pitcher he can no longer effectively be. The other consequence specifically for Boston is that if this proposal does get approved (in the name of bigger offense), they just traded away their top prospect who is projected to be one of the premier offensive sluggers in the MLB for years to come (Yoan Moncada). This proposal also horrifies me to no end.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred clearly does NOT respect the game, nor does he value some of it’s rich traditions. Most painfully obviously of all, Manfred does NOT respect the art of pitching. Some of the off-field changes he has considered, like making the wild card game a two out of three game series, international drafts, and scrapping the compensation first round draft picks with the qualifying offers are GOOD ideas that actually improve the sport. However, changing the natural components of how baseball is played ON the field would definitely cause myself to lose interest in this sport. It would seem cheapened, and artificial.
My other fear is that when these things get proposed and approved. I ask myself what they will try to change next? And what will they try to change after that? And then the one after that? Etc… I conducted a poll on my twitter in which 600 people participated. 74% voted that they thought the pace of play was fine exactly how it currently is. Ratings are up. Attendance is up. Smaller markets that once couldn’t keep up with the bigger markets are as competitive as ever. There is no need to keep fixing the sport until it breaks.
In closing, it’s so ironic that Rob Manfred was the guy who virtually chased all of the performance enhancing drugs out of baseball (and RIGHTFULLY so) despite the spectacular offense it often created on the field. All due the fact it was detrimental to the integrity of the game. Yet here is that very same guy who’s suddenly willing to scrap Major League Baseball of it’s rich traditions, values, and to sell the SOUL of the game in order to try and bring back a similar form of that old juiced up offense.
I hope Manfred does not succeed in any of these “endeavors.” He will ruin baseball if the fans and the Players Association allow him to. I hope you are all with me.