Way back in September, I addressed MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s multiple proposals to cut down on game length, many of which I found either harmful to player safety or the integrity of the game. “Baseball, the national pastime, has been around since 1845 and has always been plenty exciting,” I wrote. “In fact, even as Manfred has fretted about pace of play, baseball’s TV ratings have soared, teams have seen record revenues and fan attendance is close to the highest it has ever been. The game is just fine the way it is. Commissioner Manfred, don’t ruin it.”
All those facts remain true, and what’s more, we’re coming off a World Series that was an instant classic; the final game received more than 40 million viewers and was the single most-watched baseball game in 25 years. Regardless, Manfred and his Secretary of Ridiculous Ideas Joe Torre have forged ahead in their quest to change baseball from the national pastime to the Jerry Springer show. True blue baseball fans? Who cares about them? Let’s make baseball fun again!
I’m reacting, in particular, to a report by Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports late Wednesday afternoon. “Major League Baseball plans on testing a rule change in the lowest levels of the minor leagues this season that automatically would place a runner on second base at the start of extra innings,” he reported.
So, why do this? Surely, there must be a legitimate explanation for putting a runner on base for no reason at all. Will it keep players safe? Is it essential for MLB to continue functioning? It must be something like this — after all, there’s no way Joe Torre and Major League Baseball would simply initiate such a change without an extremely compelling reason.
Well, nope. Passan quotes Torre explaining the policy. “It’s not fun to watch when you go through your whole pitching staff and wind up bringing a utility infielder in to pitch,” Torre said. “As much as it’s nice to talk about being at an 18-inning game, it takes time.”
It’s not fun. Well, Mr. Torre, that’s a shame. It’s also entirely false. Since I’ve followed the Mets, for example, they’ve played several games of 18 innings or more. Without doing any research at all, one was in 2010 against the Cardinals — the Mets won in the 20th after Albert Pujols doubled in the 19th but the Cardinals didn’t score. One was against the Braves: Shaun Marcum pitched eight scoreless innings, the only thing he ever did for the Mets. Another was against the Marlins: I had a little league game, and when it ended two and a half hours later, the Mets were still playing.
And then there’s one of the most exciting games in baseball history: the Rick Camp game. Google it — I don’t have space to tell the story here. That game went 19 innings, and that was baseball at its absolute finest.
But, sure, it’s not fun. I just remember all these games for no reason. Certainly didn’t have fun experiencing any of those games, no sir.
And utility infielders pitching — has Joe Torre really lost it to the point where he no longer believes that’s fun? Just Google “position player pitching” and watch any of the extensive highlight videos, or read one of the articles with titles like “10 Most Memorable Position-Player Pitching Performances of All Time” or “The 5 Best Position Players to Ever Pitch in a Game.” And then tell me again that it’s not fun to watch position players pitch — and tell me, moreover, that baseball fans don’t think it’s fun either.
You can’t. It’s simply not true.
“It’s baseball,” Torre went on to say. “I’m just trying to get back to that, where this is the game that people come to watch. It doesn’t mean you’re going to score. You’re just trying to play baseball.”
Wait — what? If the report hadn’t lost me by the end of the first sentence, it would have, again, at this point. Joe Torre wants to “get back to that” by making a change that has never even entered mainstream American baseball thought? “You’re just trying to play baseball”? That’s nice, but baseball, sir, includes extra innings, which should never start with a runner on second base.
Back in September, I gave commissioner Manfred the benefit of the doubt. “Manfred, in summation, has taken improving the pace of play — a well-meaning objective — too far,” I wrote. Well, Manfred, Torre and the rest of MLB get no such benefit now.
This proposal isn’t well-meaning, misunderstood or complicated. It isn’t addressing a legitimate problem, and even if it was, it isn’t a legitimate solution. It’s an asinine PR move, a desperate attempt to attract people who aren’t baseball fans at the expense of those who are. It’s not worth being considered at a tee-ball level; to see it being tested in the minor leagues, for possible eventual implementation in the majors, is simply outrageous.
No more benefit of the doubt, no more chances for redemption, no more let’s wait and see. This is a stupid proposal, implemented by stupid people, for stupid reasons. None of this belongs anywhere near the national treasure that is Major League Baseball.
James Schapiro ’19 can be reached at email@example.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.