Fans are tearing their Cal Ripken and Derek Jeter jerseys. They’re wailing and gnashing their teeth. Pearls are being clutched, white knuckled. All because baseball is willing to tinker with its precious rulebook.
Look, in most ways, I’m a baseball puritan. Oh, I love bat flips and think players should enjoy themselves on the field. I’m all for Major League Baseball expanding by 10 to 12 teams. I understand the value of most new stats and I have no problem with openers. Oh, and I hate the sacrifice bunt.
So how can I consider myself a curmudgeonly traditionalist. First of all, most of the new stats were dreamed up buy guys like Branch Rickey and Ted Williams, they just didn’t have the tools to quantify them or high definition video cameras to capture the images they wanted. Aside from that, I want to see batters bunt for hits. Push bunts, slap bunts. I want more stolen bases. Yeah, I only want guys who know how to steal stealing bases. (If you are 17 for 19 in stolen bases, you’re better than a guy who is 35 for 50.). But I’d love to see Mike Trout steal 75 bases. I think he could do it. I’d love to see Billy Hamilton steal 150 bases. I think he can do it; if he found a way to get on base. I don’t mind pitchers coming in after an opener, but I’d love to see them pitch the second through eighth innings. I hate seeing more than one reliever in an inning. I hate domed stadiums. I want more hit and runs, run and hits, delayed steals, batters choking up with two strikes and going the other way. When it comes to shifts, I love em. I know they shifted on Cy Williams before they even shifted on Ted Williams. And I’d love to see batters beat the shift going the other way. Oh, sure it might cut down on their power numbers, but it should increase their on-base percentage and cut down on the number of precious outs given up. I also don’t want 30 percent of the league making the playoffs. Give me 10 out of 44 teams making the playoffs and I’d be ecstatic.
When it comes to the rules, I’m also old school. I say do what baseball has always done: fiddle with the rules
Rules over the years
Most of baseball’s rules that we take for granted have been changed over the years.
- Three strikes and you’re out – not always the case. It fluctuated several times during the 1850s-1880s.
- Four balls for a walk – not always the case. In the 1880s, it took five balls.
- In the 1890s, players could be substituted for while the ball was in play.
But these changes weren’t just in he 1800s.
- Famously, the spitball was banned in 1920.
- The minimum home run distance was set at 250 feet in 1925, then 325 in 1959.
- Up until the 1950s, players left their gloves in the field when it was their team’s time to bat. In the 1950s, players were required to wear helmets. These changes came to protect players from injury. So the Posey Rule and such really aren’t that revolutionary.
- The height of the pitcher’s mound changed several times, including in 1904 and, most recently, 1968.
- Oh, and the AL added the DH in 1973.
- In 1975, they changed the way the ball was made. People were fairly spoiled because from then until Instant replay was added. So fans errantly assumed rule changes were incredibly rare. My list doesn’t include changed to how stats were kept (You could write a book on changes to how the RBI or the Save were made repeatedly over the years)
So, I’m not going to get worked up by attempts to tinker with the game so long as those changes are reviewed and really tested. The only rules I’m big on changing quickly are those deemed for safety. But review them after 5 years. See if they’ve worked. See what unintended consequences occurred.
I don’t mind the idea that a batter can steal first. Hell, as a kid, I didn’t understand why a batter could steal on a dropped third strike and not others. Honestly, I still don’t quite get it. I get that the putout isn’t complete, just like a first baseman dropping the ball then tagging the bag. But the batter didn’t even put the ball in play. Now I wouldn’t want to see that stolen first base change added to amateur baseball. But I think it could be interesting in pro ball. Of course, there are fundamental changes I wouldn’t accept.
The offensive team calling pitches (which was once legal) negates the point of the game. I don’t think I’d want to see a new position. (You might be able to talk me into a pinch runner who repeatedly enters the game but who only runs under certain circumstances and really brings excitement to the game.) I don’t like the idea of resubbing players.
But, again, that’s something that was done for years. But that change has so become cemented into the game that we can’t imagine players subbing in and out like in hockey or basketball.