I read The Herald’s April 1 column “Schapiro ’19: Rob Manfred crosses the Rubicon”, and while I don’t love what Rob Manfred is doing to baseball, denouncing the implementation of an international tiebreaker in the minors is not the right battle to choose. There are plenty of problems to solve in baseball, and there are plenty of problems with the proposed solutions to those problems, but this is not the one to fight.
First, the idea that the rule doesn’t address a problem is wrong — it just doesn’t address the problem you think it does. Starters are throwing fewer and fewer innings, and after seeing the success of teams with strong bullpens, like the 2016 Cleveland Indians and 2017 Colorado Rockies, relievers are more expensive than ever. Keeping extra innings down isn’t about quickening nail biters — it’s about protecting teams from multimillion-dollar injuries. I love seeing Chris Davis take the win over Darnell McDonald as much as any other fan. It’s exciting, but it also puts overtaxed bullpens and the position players who relieve them at risk unnecessarily.
Second, if your argument is that old-school baseball is better than the changing modern game, international tiebreakers should make you giddy. It may not have the excitement of a game-winning home run, but with four-baggers already at a record high and climbing, do we realistically need more? Instead, what we get with international rules is the resurgence of small ball baseball, a dying art. Rosters full of power bats nowadays are often devoid of players who can lay down a good bunt and force the defense to make mistakes. That’s old-school baseball at its finest. The team that can execute the fundamentals of the game is the team that wins, and we should be rewarding that. In an era where hitter tendencies can be analyzed down to the minutiae, let’s force teams to squeeze in runs and let bullpens try to stop them. That’s just good baseball, and it’s disappearing.
Lastly, as much as I dislike a lot of what’s happening in baseball analytics, James Schapiro’s statement that “we’ve played this game the same way for well over a century” is laughable. Forty years ago, the five-man rotations we take for granted now were being questioned in the same way that today’s experimental six-man ones are. Defensive shifts were all but unheard of even 10 years ago, and now we see infielders move not only with every batter, but also with every pitch. Can you imagine today’s American League without the designated hitter? Baseball is steeped in tradition, but perhaps its most pervasive tradition is change. Fans never like it, but they always adapt.
It is clear that Manfred intends to be the commissioner to save baseball from itself. Pace of play has become a major priority in a way it never was in the past, and rules like visit limits demonstrate the ways our current commissioner is far removed from the actual action on the field. I don’t have Manfred’s playing information in front of me, but that rule tells me he has never spent time behind the dish. No catcher would green-light a restriction like that, and its implementation was detrimental to baseball. However, it has now become part of the multifaceted strategy that makes baseball great. This is the thinking man’s game, and the international tiebreaker is now simply another aspect of it.
There’s no way to know now if we will see pre-placed runners in the Majors soon, or ever. The rule may become one of those minor league quirks like the pitch clock that is regularly discussed but has so far stayed out of Major League Baseball. Either way, the idea that it somehow takes away from baseball is one I can’t agree with. In an age where we see over 6,000 home runs and double-digit Tommy John surgeries a year, maybe a little more small ball is exactly what we need.
Patrick Nugent ’21 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.