The Brakeman

One of the overarching and never underestimated compliments of most early deadball-era pitchers (to me anyway), is that they were indestructible. That is, their arms were. A quick glance at the stats of late 19th/early 20th century legends like Cy Young, Pud Galvin, Old Hoss Radbourn and Cannonball Crane among others reveal some hysterical numbers in terms of innings pitched, games started, and complete games.

One of these dapper gents however, achieved a completely asinine feat that the rest did not: He threw 185 consecutive complete games.

Jack Taylor began his pro career in 1897 with the Milwaukee Brewers of the old Western League, a team managed by the great future Hall of Famer, Connie Mack. He broke into the bigs in 1898 after the Chicago Orphans (Cubs) purchased his contract later in the ’98 season where he remained until 1903. On June 20, 1901, Taylor took the loss in a complete-game performance against the Beaneaters (later the Braves) at the South End Grounds in Boston. This game would be the catalyst for nearly five years’ worth of completing every game he started.

Nicknamed “Brakeman Jack” for his occupation in the offseason, Taylor was a non-flashy, but tough-as-nails righty from Straitsville, Ohio.  His breakout season came in 1902 where he compiled a 23-11 mark with a sizzling 1.29 ERA, along with 34 complete games in 34 starts and was the league leader in ERA, WHIP (0.953) and shutouts (8.) After the regular season ended, the Cubs and crosstown rival White Sox engaged in an exhibition “City Series”, something that would become a Chicago tradition for many years. In this particular series, Taylor was accused of throwing a game to the Sox. Though nothing was ever proven, he was nonetheless traded during the winter of 1903 to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Brakeman was dealt along with Larry McLean for Jack O’Neill and a young, unproven and undervalued pitcher named Mordecai Brown. At the time, it seemed the Cardinals’ got the better half of the deal, but not long afterward that table turned as “Three Finger” Brown would go on to a Hall of Fame career with the Cubs and locked his own valued place in baseball lore.

Image result for Jack Taylor 1902

Meanwhile, Brakeman Jack’s complete game streak continued with the Cardinals, sealing up 39 of them to lead the league, along with 20 victories in 1904. Amid repeated accusations of throwing games, none of which were proven, Taylor became a fairly hot commodity. In 1906 he was traded back to the Cubs, and the timing couldn’t have been better, as there he joined an outstanding, now-famous pitching staff led by Brown, along with Orval Overall, Carl Lundgren, Jack Pfiester, and Ed Reulbach. The Brakeman added in his own 12-3 mark on the season, but ended his complete game streak at 185, after “only” completing 15 of 16 games that year. His ERA was a stellar 1.83 and a factor in the Cubs’ team ERA, which ended with an unheard of mark of 1.76 for the season. The Cubs would reach the World Series, but ironically fall to the crosstown White Sox, where the famed “Hitless Wonders” would do enough damage to the elite Cubs pitching staff to take the title. A year later, Taylor helped the northsiders back to the World Series, this time emerging as world champs after defeating the Detroit Tigers. 1907 would be Taylor’s final big league season, though he would bounce around in the minor leagues for several more years before finally hanging up his cleats in 1913. He returned to Ohio, worked as a miner, and died there in 1938.

For his career, Brakeman Jack Taylor would amass a 152-139 record, to go along with a career ERA of 2.65. Certainly nothing to scoff at there, but when you factor in his 2,626 innings and 20 shutouts, it’s hard not to consider Taylor among the elite, if certainly overlooked hurlers of the early deadball-era. The most impressive mark of course, being his MLB-record 185 consecutive complete games. That is absolutely crazy to conceive, in any era of baseball.

They sure don’t make ’em like that anymore, folks.

 

Sources: http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/t/tayloja02.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Jack_Taylor_(tayloja02)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Taylor_(1900s_pitcher)

http://charlesapril.com/2009/08/closer-look-jack-taylors-complete-game.html

 

Photo Credits: http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/t/tayloja02.shtml

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Taylor_(1900s_pitcher)

The Greatest College Baseball Game Ever Played

Game seven of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians may go down as the greatest major league baseball game, or at least greatest game seven, of all time. The two thousand-plus inning exhibition game between the Cubs and all-stars from the Iowa Baseball Confederacy in 1908 in W.P. Kinsella’s The Iowa Baseball Confederacy is doubtless the greatest fictional baseball game of all time.

So what about the best game ever in college ball? Well, there certainly is one.

New Haven, Connecticut. Yale Field. May 21, 1981. NCAA Northeast Regional, first round.

Future MLB star hurlers Ron Darling of Yale, and St. John’s’ Frank Viola would square off in a pitchers duel reminiscent of  many deadball-era gems of several decades prior. Many of the game’s 2,000 spectators hung around the ballpark for the second game of the NCAA Regional doubleheader, hoping for a better contest than the earlier 10-2 drubbing of Central Michigan at the hands of Maine. They had no idea what they were in for.

Image result for Ron Darling Yale
Ron Darling, Yale 1981

Darling and Viola were deadlocked in a scoreless game in the ninth inning. Moreover, Darling had yet to give up a hit and no runner had reached third base. As the game entered extra innings, both pitchers’ pitch counts were skryocketing into the 170’s, but it had no effect on either arm. St. John’s catcher Don Giordano marveled at the movement that Darling had on his pitches all game long. “An unbelievable slider that broke like nothing any of us were accustomed to seeing,” Giordano said.

Yale managed to scatter several runners throughout the game, but Viola, dominant in his own right for the Redmen, held them scoreless. Darling was just a tick better however, taking his no-hit sensation into the 12th inning.

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Frank Viola, St. John’s 1981

Stephen Scafa led off the top of the 12th for St. John’s and managed to muscle a soft liner off his hands into left field, ending the no-hitter by Darling. Everyone at the ballpark, including, in a great show of sportsmanship, the entire St. John’s team, gave Darling a standing ovation. “I’ll never forget this as long as I live: The St. John’s team came up to the top step of the dugout and gave me a standing ovation,” Darling said during a 30th-anniversary of the game in 2011. Even in the midst of a great battle, monumental moments are respected by those who respect the game.

The speedy Scafa, always a base-stealing threat, immediately swiped second.

Giordana then reached on an error by Yale shortstop Bob Brooke to put runners at the corners. Thomas Covino came in to pinch-run, and the Redmen called a double-steal on the very next pitch. Darling stumbled coming off the mound and thus could not cut off the throw, which went to second. Scafa froze at third while Covina got caught in a rundown. At the moment the ball was thrown to first, Scafa broke for home, sliding in safely to give St. John’s a 1-0 lead they would not relinquish.

Yale was unable to score in the bottom of the 12th against St. John’s closer Eric Stamphl and the game ended.

In a performance that would make Walter Johnson proud, Darling went the distance in the 1-0 loss, allowing just one hit and striking out 16. Viola twirled a gem of his own, scattering seven hits over 11 scoreless innings. The fans at Yale Field that day saw the greatest college baseball game ever played. A timeless pitchers duel that lasted three extra frames and was decided on a gutsy (and brilliant), display of smallball at the most opportune time.

It was the greatest spectacle of sport and strategy at the NCAA level, and 36 years later has yet to be outdone. It may never be.

‘Tis a strange and wonderful game, that baseball…

 

Sources: http://www.nationalpastime.com

Photo Credits: http://www.yalebulldogs.com/sports/m-basebl/2014-15/releases/20150227l81ndr

Historic Yale Field is Marking the 35th Anniversary of “The Greatest College Baseball Game Ever Played”

 

Phantom First Basemen: Elite Company

Baseball, as we all know, is a game full of bizarre and bewildering situations. Many are often forgotten, or only briefly remarked upon by way of a footnote in a long-overlooked box score, or a mention from a researcher on one of those “On this day…” articles. Such was the case today, when glossing over http://www.nationalpastime.com I noticed a remarkable stat that occurred on this date 87 years ago. Looking a bit further into it, I was reminded of a very small handful of times where a team could have actually won a game without their first baseman.

On April 27, 1930, the Chicago White Sox defeated the St. Louis Browns 2-1 at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. The lone oddity of this game, was that White Sox first baseman Bud Clancy played all nine innings without recording a single putout, becoming the first player in modern baseball history to do so. (A.B. McCauley first accomplished the feat in 1891 while playing for the Washington Statesmen of the old American Association.) The Odell, Illinois native would have a largely vanilla nine-year major league career, mostly as a backup. Though he would end up with a solid .281 career batting average, he is most remembered for this strange day early in the ’30 season.

Image result for Bud Clancy no putouts

Wait. Is it considered a feat if a player technically does nothing?

What if he does it, er, nothing, twice?

Such was the case several years later for James Anthony “Ripper” Collins. A very good player by all accounts, Collins was late to the game, toiling in the minors for several years in the 1920’s and breaking into the majors in 1931 with the St. Louis Cardinals. He would have a breakout year in 1934, tying the great Mel Ott for the league lead in home runs with 35, and helping the famed Gashouse Gang of St. Louis to win the World Series. A year later on August 21, 1935, Collins would join Clancy when he would play all nine innings in a 13-3 win against the Braves in Boston, recording zero putouts. Two years later after having been traded to the Cubs, Collins would do it again. On June 29, 1937 in a game, ironically against the Cardinals at Sportsman’s Park, Collins and the Cubs would enjoy an 11-9 victory including zero putouts from the first baseman.

Image result for Ripper Collins

The strange occurrence would happen again nearly 40 years later, as Oakland’s Gene Tenace would join the Clancy/Collins ranks. On September 1, 1974 while playing with the World Series champion Oakland Athletics, Tenace would “help” his team earn a 5-3 win over Detroit at Tiger Stadium with no participation defensively from himself.

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Gene Tenace, 1974

Fast forward another 41 years to July 5, 2015, and Red Sox slugger David Ortiz joined the list. In his first start at first base at Fenway Park in over nine years, Ortiz does not record a putout, though he did get an assist in the Sox’ 5-4 win over Houston.

Image result for David Ortiz first base
Big Papi July 5, 2015

Just four first basemen in the modern history of the game to essentially do nothing defensively to him his team win. Rare and odd, but evidently not impossible. It’s a strange game after all…

 

Photo Credits: http://sox.createaforum.com/general-discussion/pale-hose-history/3175/

http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/player.php?p=colliri02

https://alchetron.com/Gene-Tenace-850985-W

http://www.bostonherald.com/sports/red_sox/2016/08/red_sox_notebook_david_ortiz_to_start_at_first_base

Sources: http://nationalpastime.com/

https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/95982dfa

http://www.southsidesox.com/2015/12/29/10680878/white-sox-feats-of-strength-bud-clancys-zero-chance-game

https://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/mlb-big-league-stew/david-ortiz-did-something-no-red-sox-first-baseman-has-ever-done-004547771.html

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/c/colliri02.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/c/clancbu01.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/WAS/1891.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/STL/1935-schedule-scores.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/CHC/1937-schedule-scores.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/OAK/1974-schedule-scores.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BOS/BOS201507050.shtml

2017 MLB Predictions

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Well folks, here we are! The 2017 season has arrived (today is Opening Day in fact, so I realize I’m a bit late on this.) I debated all offseason on whether to do a predictions post, but in the end, and by the end I mean about 4 minutes ago, I decided why not? So, here goes it, my prognostications for this year:

AL EAST

  1. Boston Red Sox – They’re loaded. Having David Price banged up to start the year won’t help, but picking up Chris Sale will, as he historically has dominated the division.
  2. Toronto Blue Jays – Balanced and potent. They should be in the picture.
  3. Baltimore Orioles – Talented and consistent, and Buck Showalter will keep them relevant.
  4. New York Yankees – Could easily finish higher. 2-5 in this division could end up anywhere.
  5. Tampa Bay Rays – Should be competitive, but an overall lack of offense will likely keep them at a distance by September.

AL CENTRAL

  1. Cleveland Indians – Like Boston, they’re loaded and hungry. Will the 69-year World Series drought come to an end?
  2. Kansas City Royals – Injuries decimated them last year. If healthy, they should contend.
  3. Detroit Tigers – Getting older, but don’t count them out just yet.
  4. Minnesota Twins – Imploded last year but they have lots of youth and talent. If they can gel, they can finish higher.
  5. Chicago White Sox – Finally in a needed rebuilding mode and seem to be doing it right. Some feel there’s still enough there to be competitive all season, but it could be a rough year on the south side, especially if the long-rumored trade of Jose Quintana actually happens.

AL WEST

  1. Houston Astros – Good talent mix up and down and they’re ready to win. Dallas Keuchel is the key cog in their rotation. If he bounces back, it’ll be a huge plus for them.
  2. Texas Rangers – Solid, though may need to find an arm or two. Should be in the race all season.
  3. Seattle Mariners – Could be a sleeper team. Balanced lineup, little gray area on their pitching staff, but they feel ready to win this year.
  4. Los Angeles Angels – Should be better if they stay healthy but not quite ready to challenge the division.
  5. Oakland Athletics – The rebuild continues.

NL EAST

  1. Washington Nationals – Will we see the Baker Effect part II? Lots of pressure for this team to advance in the playoffs. They have the roster to do so.
  2. New York Mets – The most formidable starting rotation in the bigs, but they must stay healthy. If they do, this team could be extremely dangerous.
  3. Miami Marlins – Talent to be competitive, but depth and potential emotional hangover from the tragic death of Jose Fernandez will be factors.
  4. Philadelphia Phillies – Continuing rebuild, but trending up. Could grab a few more wins than people expect.
  5. Atlanta Braves – Lots of people seem high on this team to finish middle or upper in the division. They still are likely a year away, but like the AL East, positions 2-5 could be in any order.

NL CENTRAL

  1. Chicago Cubs – The defending World Champs are the best team in baseball, unequivocally. Sustaining that success now becomes the challenge, but this team has the depth, youth, flexibility and brains to do so.
  2. St. Louis Cardinals – Instantly better with the signing of Dexter Fowler, but losing Alex Reyes for the season was an unexpected blow. Still, there’s enough here to remain in the playoff picture.
  3. Pittsburgh Pirates – Arguably the best outfield in baseball and plenty of promise in the infield too. Will it be enough to climb back into the race?
  4. Milwaukee Brewers – Need pitching. Likely a mid-lower division finish looms.
  5. Cincinnati Reds – The full rebuild continues.

NL WEST

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers – Strong overall team and Dave Roberts proved in his first year as skipper he’s a trusted leader. If Rich Hill steps up to solidify their rotation, another division title awaits for these guys.
  2. San Francisco Giants – Picking up Mark Melancon was huge for them to bolster their bullpen, but a lack of big bats in their lineup could be a detriment. Still, a team of very good, dependable players will keep them on pace with the Dodgers all year.
  3. Colorado Rockies – Another potential sleeper team who could surprise. Pitching is always a question mark here, but there is a very potent lineup and solid defense that could enable this team to win.
  4. Arizona Diamondbacks – New managers always bring some new questions, but overall a lack of depth will be a major hurdle come the dog days of summer.
  5. San Diego – In rebuild mode.

There you go, folks. We’ll see how it shakes out as the season progresses and check in at the All-Star break to see how my semi-educated guesses are playing out. Enjoy the season!

 

Photo Credit: http://bsndenver.com/it-is-time-for-major-league-baseball-to/

A Draft Day Adventure

Lost in a world of fantasy, look what you’ve done to me.”

Yeah, that was a nod to a sizable hit song from 1982, remember? No? What about the Canadian rock band Triumph, who wrote it? Geez, what about the mega hit “Fantasy” by Aldo Nova? How about…crap, never mind. You may have known somewhere in the far recesses of your subconscious mind that these songs existed, but their details were very sketchy, at best. Basically, you don’t remember these songs any more than I remembered just how to play fantasy baseball.

You can imagine then, that I was a little concerned heading into last weekend’s draft, feeling like a mechanic from the 1970’s who started working on cars again in 2017 after a long time away. Sure, cars still have four wheels and an engine, but what makes them actually go is radically different from what he remembers.

Image result for Fantasy baseball draft

This 2017 season is not my first foray into the world of fantasy baseball per se, but it is my first jaunt into this modern age of the game. You see, the last time I delved into this universe, the internet didn’t quite exist and you had to mail in your draft picks and lineups. Yes, that mail. So, here we are today and after some weeks of not-too-strenuous convincing and courting by a group of friends whom I share a mutual passion not only for baseball but specifically the Cubs with, I joined their league. Mind you, this is a league that is some 16 years old, give or take a foggy year or two at it’s inception during those joyous college years. Yep, this is me: Don’t try and join a startup league with fellow noob’s (as legions of basement-dwelling World of Warcrafters might call me), or a basic online league like I participated in, sort of, once before. Nope, just join a full 12-team keeper league full of veteran, extremely smart, analytical players. It’s going to be fun they said.

I started my prep with no singular direction, and outlined a list of players at each position without too much intricate research. I honestly had neither the time, nor the die-hard inclination. As a league rookie, I first got to participate in a mini-expansion draft with a fellow new team to the league and, actually, I think I did OK here. Selecting from a short list of available players who weren’t kept from last season, I managed to snag Johnathan Lucroy, Adrian Beltre, Brandon Crawford and Javier Baez. Not a bad start.

Draft day arrived and I was filled with excitement and anticipation, but also a modicum of fear as I didn’t want to completely Lewis Skolnick myself in front of a room full of long-time players. The auction rounds came and went, and my initial goal was to try and spread the wealth a bit to get a decent number of good players. Five buys later, mission accomplished. It was then that things began to trend in a direction that was less than upward, but not entirely to the trajectory of the Titanic‘s ultimate buoyancy in the North Atlantic, either. When it was all said and done, I took a look at my roster, feeling pretty OK about my performance. While I didn’t get remotely close to every player I had targeted (who does?), I still felt I had a roster of players who could deliver consistency in multiple categories. On second look however, I noticed two overarching themes:

Youth.

Health.

I don’t have a lot of either on my roster.

I do seem to have a good amount of power with guys like Lucroy, Beltre, Mark Trumbo, Giancarlo Stanton, Wil Myers, and Mr. Do-It-All Charlie Blackmon (easily my best pick of the draft.) Then comes a bench with what ended up being multiple catchers, but whom can also DH, a semi-surprising 22nd-round pickup with Josh Bell, and Kansas City utility man Whit Merrifield, who sounds like an Alpha Beta pledge at Adams College if ever there was one.

While the position players may be adequate, the pitching staff is cause for concern. Anchored by three injury/loss-of-stuff risks with Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Zack Greinke. A couple mid-level starters with James Paxton and Gio Gonzales round things out with Sam Dyson and Kyle Barraclough (whom I admittedly drafted about 12% due to his name), in the mix as well. Draft snafu #2 happened nearly too late of course, when I realized somewhere around the 19th round that I had no true closer, and all the big guns were long off my board. I had to settle, for now, on Huston Street, who promptly began suffering from some sort of ailment (again.) Not a great sign. But sort of fitting, in a way. I’m the dumbass who overlooked that spot on my roster.

What’s the point of all of this you ask?

None, really. I just wanted to write something, I haven’t written about fantasy baseball before, and figured I’d throw this yarn of shameless self-deprecation out in the universe and open the floor to mocking, laughter and sneers. Hopefully it works out and I can maintain something above the level of animal excrement for the season.

But I’ll keep an eye on that waiver wire too.

Photo Credit: https://media2.fdncms.com/chicago/imager/fantasy-hell/u/magnum/5786463/fantasybaseballflat_by_johnny_sampson_image.jpg

First Time For Everything; Three Times In One Game

They say lightning never strikes the same place twice. There’s also a first time for everything. But how often does a first time for something happen at the same place, at the same time, three times?

In Game Five of the 1920 World Series, that’s exactly what occurred.

Image result for 1920 World Series Game five
1920 World Series program from Brooklyn

The Cleveland Indians and Brooklyn Robins (aka Dodgers) were locked in what was sure to go down as a phenomenal best-of-nine, if the first four tightly contested games were any indication. With the Series tied at two games apiece, Cleveland sent Jim Bagby to the mound against Brooklyn spitballer Burleigh Grimes, who blanked the Indians 3-0 in Game Two.

An overflow crowd filled League Park in Cleveland for the contest, with temporary bleachers added to right and center fields, increasing the capacity for the game but also shortening the distance to those fences. After completing his warmup, Bagby sat in the Cleveland dugout, when player-manager and future hall of famer Tris Speaker began going over the lineup with his pitcher. After a few minutes sitting in silence and seemingly staring off to nowhere, Bagby spoke up.

“I think I’ll bust one out to those wooden seats. They seem just about right for me to hit.”

Speaker ambled away.

Bagby got through the top of the first inning with a harmless single being the only damage. It was then that the Indians jumped right on Grimes, a stark turnaround from his untouchable performance just a few days prior. Three straight singles by Charlie Jamieson, Bill “Wamby” Wambsgannss and the great Tris Speaker loaded the bases for Elmer Smith with nobody out. On a 1-2 count, Smith drilled a Grimes junkball deep over the right field fence for a grand slam, the first in Series history.

It was the kickstart to one of the most sensational World Series games of all time.

In the bottom of the fourth, still leading 4-0 and with two men on, Bagby stepped to the plate. It was time to deliver on his pregame prophecy to Speaker. Deliver he did, as he crushed a hung pitch from Grimes into the temporary bleachers in right-center, giving the Indians a 7-0 lead and chasing Grimes from the game. It was the first ever home run by a pitcher in World Series play.

Those two accolades apparently were not enough on this day, however, as the most spectacular would happen half an inning later.

Brooklyn would start the top of the fifth with two straight singles by Pete Kilduff and Otto Miller. This brought up Clarence Mitchell, a solid-hitting pitcher who replaced Grimes the inning before. Cleveland second baseman Bill Wambsganns played deep against Mitchell, a left-handed hitter with a tendency to pull the ball. On a 1-1 count, Mitchell lined the ball up the middle toward second base. Wamby, in decent position, made a break for the ball but it seemed to be a sure single. Kilduff and Miller raced out immediately, thinking the ball would get through, but Wamby was able to snowcone the ball on the fly for the first out. With his momentum carrying him right toward the bag, he stepped on second base for out number two, doubling up Kilduff who was unable to tag. Turning to his left, Wamby saw Miller stop short of second base, dead in the water. He and everyone but Wamby was astonished that the ball had even been caught. With shouts of “tag him!” from shortstop Joe Sewell, a rookie and future hall of famer called up to replace the tragically deceased Ray Chapman, Wamby calmly applied the tag to a stunned Miller and began jogging back to the dugout. The crowd sat in stunned silence for several moments. As he got closer to the dugout, the standing-room-only throng began to cheer loudly as they realized what just happened: The first unassisted triple play in World Series history.

To this day, it’s still the only unassisted triple play in a World Series game.

Legendary writer Ring Lardner would note, with distinction, that “it was the first time in world series history that a man named Wambsganns had ever made a triple play assisted by consonants only.”

Bill “Wamby” Wambsganns, 1920. Notice the black armband, that all Cleveland players wore in honor of their teammate, Ray Chapman, who was hit in the head by a Carl Mays fastball and was killed in August of that year.

The Indians would go on to finish off the Dodgers 8-1 on this day, and then cap it off with 1-0 and 3-0 shutouts in Games Six and Seven to win the Series, five games to two.

It’s one thing to play, and win, a pivotal game in any series. But to have three specific firsts in the history of the game, one of which is the only first to date, all in the same game, is something not short of marvelous.

 

Sources:

The Pitch That Killed: The Story of Carl Mays, Ray Chapman, and the Pennant Race of 1920. Mike Sowell, New York: Macmillan, 1989.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/postseason/1920_WS.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/BRO/1920.shtml

Photo Credits: 

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/fc/1920_World_Series_program.jpg/800px-1920_World_Series_program.jpg

https://bill37mccurdy.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/wambsganss-05.jpg

Examining the Potential MLB Rules Changes

To put it mildly, Major League Baseball is doing rather well right now.

Image result for MLB logo

The sport has maintained a high level of popularity, and is enjoying a period of extremely strong financial stability. Moreover, the 2016 season was one of it’s finest in years. With the two teams with the longest championship droughts in baseball squaring off in the World Series, engaging in an epic battle capped off by the greatest Game Seven of all time, it was arguably the best thing that could have happened to an already stalwart state of baseball.

But hey, what’s the point of having a boat if not to rock it?

Baseball is a business after all, and like any business, you strive for health and growth. Health isn’t a problem right now for MLB as we just examined. Growth is the goal here, in the form of gaining new fans by way of increasing the pace of play. This, however, could likely come at the price of alienating as many, or more, fans than might be gained. More on that later. Back to the boat-rocking.

This budding tidal wave comes in the form of several proposed, and potentially proposed, rules changes, ranging from the possibly sensible to the ludicrously absurd. Let’s take a look at each one a little closer and how they may, or may not (or, in some cases, shouldn’t) work.

  1. Raising the strike zone. The idea here is to put more balls in play and thus create more offense. We get it, offense is sexy. Data shows that umpires have increasingly called low strikes below the knees, and by raising the zone to above the kneecap (essentially two inches from it’s current location), this likely creates favorable counts to hitters and gives them more chances for contact.
  2. Eliminating the four intentional walk pitches. This one seems to be the most likely to actually be implemented, but how much impact would it really have on pace of play? In 2016, there was only one intentional walk every 46 1/3 innings, or one every 5.2 games. That tells me the effect that eliminating the four soft lobs would have on speeding up the game would be negligible. Perhaps they could utilize it on a case-by-case basis. Say a game is already running very long and there is an IBB in the late innings. In that instance it may make sense to just forego the four tosses. But doing it every time would not only not speed the game up, it would eliminate the chance of a wild pitch, or one in the zone that the hitter could get to. Such things are rare, but entertaining when they happen.
  3. New extra-innings scenario. Dear Baseball Gods, please don’t let this one happen. Starting extra innings with a runner on second base is ridiculous. Teams should attempt to score runs the same way whether it be the first, or ninety-first inning.
  4. Shortening games to seven innings. Really? Who came up with this gem? This isn’t Little League here. I’d be shocked if this ever gets much support.
  5. Decrease the regular season schedule to 154 games. This has been talked about for years, and it may happen someday. The six-game difference would have several impacts, resulting in more days off during the season, and certain improved travel scenarios. Also, the shorter schedule would greatly decrease the likelihood that the World Series bleeds into November, where the threat of wintery weather for Midwest and east coast teams is always near. (Then again, April weather can be unfriendly too.)
  6. The Pitch Clock. This one is already present in college and Minor League Baseball with some success in shortening game times. Whether this tactic makes it to the Majors remains to be seen.
  7. Automatic Strike Zone and Base Sensors. Am I the only one who shudders at the thought of an automated system of governance for our game? Those who hate the Don Denkinger’s of the world may support these high-tech solutions, but purists will despise them. Bad calls, unfortunately, are part of the game and although ideas like this are sound, it takes certain elements of chance, one of the very founding principles of baseball, away. The human element should be kept in decision-making, and the use of high-def cameras, slow-motion and replay review should help keep umpires on the field where they belong.

While some of these potential changes to the rules are interesting, will they really help the pace of play enough to bring new fans to the game? I think this is a risk vs. reward scenario that MLB needs to look at. While gaining new fans is always rewarding, the risk of possibly alienating the long-time fans and purists is worse. These are the diehards who have no qualms about shelling out their money for tickets, apparel, books, decor, etc. To risk losing any number of that group outweighs the odds of gaining new fans because you throw a few new toys on the field, or start extra innings with a runner in scoring position like some silly off-the-cuff rule in a college drinking game.

Like most fans, I’m all about improving the game of baseball. Just as long as it remains the game of baseball.

 

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