MLB is back for 2020 and it has come with a slew of changes that are making the game seem a bit…off. So much has happened and I wanted to talk about how the league is handling this abnormal season.
On Monday, three baseball games were postponed. As usual, an early-season game between Cleveland and Chicago was delayed because of the weather. Doesn’t matter if it’s April or July. Nice storm though, and the weeds in my yard finally got some rain. The main problem was the other two games that were canceled. Due to a COVID-19 breakout on the Marlins, The Phillies/Yankees and O’s/Marlins games had to be postponed. Baseball fans, as well as American sports fans, are taking a deep breath about the future. A thick binder of protocols don’t do much good if enforcement is lax.
Fiddle-de-dee, with COVID, let’s chew on another dog bone. The extended off-season gave those in charge extra time to implement rule changes. A few of them are in play already this season.
The Eugene V. Debs Rule
I have had quite a few people in my sleepy, somewhat conservative town state that putting a man on second base to start extra innings is “the start of socialism in baseball.” So, I am naming the rule after my favorite socialist presidential candidate.
The extra-inning rule places the lead-off batter on second base. I would have preferred to have games limited to 12 innings, with games ending in draws being an option. Many sports allow for games ending in a tie. For example, Korean baseball (Go KIA Tigers!) allows for ties, and they have not had to cancel games due to COVID-19 outbreaks. Awarding a team a free runner on second just seems wrong. End a game in a tie, sure – put a runner that didn’t earn his way on to second? Come on. I am now hoping for a 10 inning perfect game loss of 1-0. Now, you’ll be hoping for one also.
The Angels and Indians are definitely not fans of the rule, while Royals and A’s fans probably don’t mind it. In the first extra-innings game of the year, the A’s Matt Olson alertly caught Shohei Ohtani trying to move to third on a grounder and just like that, runner on first with one out. The Angels failed to score and as the script always goes, Olson won the game with a grand slam at his next at-bat.
Less dramatically, yet traditional enough to make Joe “Iron Man” McGinnity (look him up, interesting guy) grin, the Royals simply bunted the runner to third, and despite dropping the run expectancy from 1.05 to 0.95, a sacrifice fly proved to be the winner, as the Cleveland 9 failed to get their runner home in their final at-bat. Indians’ fans and players were so upset they stopping arguing on both sides of the name debate, and came together to complain about the rule. They forgot about the seven guys left on base, two in the bottom of the tenth inning, and only getting one hit out of ten attempts with a runner in scoring position. Sure! Let’s blame the rule for the loss!
Imagine an NFL where the quarterback must also be the kicker, but only when NFC teams play at home. That is how I see the DH rule. But this year, pitchers are not hitting. I am perfectly fine with this given pitching injuries could hit teams hard this year, and why not reduce chances for fluke injuries? Also, why keep defending the equivalent of having Tom Brady punt and kick extra points? Yes, some NL teams were scrambling a bit, but I am sure even the Mets can find a bat to stick in the lineup that produces more than a pitcher. These are the rules changes I like, it fits perfectly.
Covid-19 Requirements/Social Distancing
There are various rules and requirements in wearing masks and social distancing this year. As noted above, enforcement is a bit wanting, and that is causing issues. But actually FOLLOWING the rules lead to a series of events that I am sure would have brought Earl Weaver and Ron Luciano (former umpire, interesting guy) together for a good hearty chuckle until Luciano tossed Weaver.
The Pirates’ Derek Holland was sitting in the stands, as players not playing in the game must do, and was voicing his displeasure on home plate umpire Jordan Baker’s strike zone. Well, voices carry far this year, and there is still a rule about arguing balls and strikes, so Holland got tossed. From. The. Stands. Pirates’ manager Derek Shelton masked up, and so did Baker, and a socially distanced argument was on! It was a scene better fit for La Peste. I’m sure we’ll see more arguments as the year continues, and it should be fun.
Three Batter Rule for Pitchers
Right now, with the expanded rosters, teams don’t seem to be too restricted by this rule. I’m excited to see how teams will work around the three batter rule for pitchers. I expect to see intentional base-on-balls go up. However, in the end this rule is an abomination and inexcusable. I can appreciate rules that restrict how a player is used, i.e.: if he comes out of the game then he can’t go back in. I can understand that we can’t just pull a person from the stands and put him in the game. Well, we can NOW, but the player has to be on the gameday roster. But rules that restrict how a player can be used, strategically, change the game at its core. Yes, pitching changes can be tedious even to the most loyal fan, but legislating out tedium to shave a few minutes off a game is a violation of baseball ideology. It is rulemaking via marketing, regulation by an algorithm, out and out silly.
Photo Adapted by Zach Ennis (@zachennis on Twitter and Instagram)