Because of the shortened 60-game season and dealing with the protocols for this pandemic, MLB had to adopt rules and instructions that many people will be scratching their heads over. Will fans be excited about some of these new rules or will they feel uncomfortable? Will some of the changes be a distraction or something that is not even noticed?
We have been talking and wondering about the placing of a runner at second base for every half inning of extra innings. Is it a short term thing or will it become another change that baseball will adopt for good? Other so called “temporary” rules for this season could be a smoke screen for what MLB wants to do permanently next year or in the near future. Like the DH in the National League. Maybe it is time for both leagues to be playing by the same rules.
One permanent rule change is already in place for this 2020 season. That being the three-batter minimum for pitchers. The new rule states that starting pitchers and relief pitchers must face a minimum of three batters or reach the end of a half-inning, with exceptions for incapacitating injury or illness. I know that change is inevitable and in most cases turns out to be minor things that are meant to improve the game. This change will definitely speed up play. So that is a good change. Unless you will miss those percentage related maneuvers to match a lefty with a lefty or a righty with a righty?
Some of the changes are part of baseball’s never ending quest to speed up the game. This is nothing new. In 1954, players were not allowed to leave their gloves out on the field anymore. The players were not happy about that. Coming off of five straight World Series wins in a row, Yankees manager Casey Stengel in 1953 said: “There is no sensible reason for having players take their gloves off the field. We are trying every which way to speed up the game and now we have a rule that slows it down.” Two weeks into the season, fans and players forgot about it and everyone was happy. That is because the game is what fans come to see and that will never change.
By the way, the average time of a game in 1953 was 2 hours and 26 minuets. Today it is 3 hours, 5 minutes. This year they are shaving 5 seconds off of the time between innings. From 2:05 to 2:00 minutes. This is a change we won’t even notice, unless your popcorn needs that extra five seconds in the microwave between innings. All I know is that an extra five seconds will get me to the parking lot about :45 seconds sooner when I leave the ballpark..
What about something really radical? What if MLB tried something we did when we were kids for this shortened season. Like when we played three on a side. We ran from home to third to second, back to third and then home. If you hit it opposite field, you were out. Those games lasted an hour. They could get three games in on a day and now play a 90-game schedule. Sounds wacky but something like that would keep the players distanced enough for the situation we are in now. Hey, you got a better idea? They would only need a five-man roster. Think of all the money the owners could save. They are always looking to do that.
For instance, for this year only, each team will use a “Taxi Squad” that will consist of three players who will travel to away games. Just in case someone on the roster is unable to play. The “Taxi Squad” players will not be paid an MLB salary or accrue service time, a money saving thing. But they will receive the Major League allowance of $108.50 per day along with their minor league salary. Question: What’s with the .50 cents. Guess those silly analytic guys in the front office just had to get involved with this one. Wow, what a deal. For the owners, or course.
We have always accepted changes to the game. Just as a reminder, here are a few of the things we seemed to have gotten used to: The “Hocus Pocus” intentional base on balls, instant replay and not getting out of the box between pitches. Lowering the mound, moving the fences, the DH in the AL, playoffs, night baseball for the World Series, wild colored uniforms and on and on it goes. The fact that the basic game has not changed its true format keeps us happy and allows us to accept changes. We do get used to changes.
Yet the bottom line this year will be whether or not the fans like the product MLB will be putting out there? They will see the best of the best, there is no question about that. They will see great pitching and hitting and some not so good performances as well. So nothing will change with that part of the game. But will it be enough to keep people watching on TV? With today’s technology fans can stream any game on their lap top or phone. So one big thing fans will like is that they will not be spending any money to see a game. No more sweating about paying for college.
I do feel the biggest noticeable change this year will be, no fans in the stadiums. It’s too big to ignore. Fortunately it’s just a temporary thing until this pandemic is over. One of the most amazing things at any sporting event is the crowd’s reaction to what just happened. For instance, a walk-off HR, a no hitter, plays at the plate and players’ breaking records.
It is all about the roar of the crowd, cheers and boos. I don’t think we will get used to not hearing or feeling that rush of excitement from a large crowd. I don’t think the games will be as bad as watching my aunt Stella and my grandma knit potholders. But I wanted to see the reaction of the fans in a stadium when the Astros and Red Sox play in someone else’s ballpark. Especially at Dodger Stadium. Next year no one will remember them cheating their way to a World Series. Maybe just another thing we will get used to.
Yes baseball is back but I fear this abbreviated baseball season, will be like going to a fine steak restaurant, ordering a Rib Eye and a T-bone and they bring you two turkey burgers on an english muffin.