Well, I haven’t written much about baseball this year. Between lackluster seasons by the Dodgers and Mariners and the fact that all the Mariners games are on a channel that we don’t get, but the game hasn’t been in the forefront of my mind.
Still, today’s games represent the end of the regular season for Major League Baseball, and I’ve paid enough attention to have a few thoughts. (It doesn’t take much for me to have a few thoughts.)
First, I really think the Wild Card races have added something good to the game. I know, this is hardly a new thing. The wild card has been around for quite some time now. Still, this season is a perfect example. All six division winners have been determined for a while, but because of the Wild Card race, four more fan bases were able to stay engaged in the game all the way through the last day of the season when the Rays and the Cardinals beat out the Red Sox and Braves for their leagues’ respective final spot. Is it groundbreaking? No. Is it good for the game? Yes.
Of course, this got me to thinking of a couple of other aspects of the game that could use some tweaking. This next one is probably going to be considered a sacrilege in the land of the great Edgar Martinez, but I’m not crazy about the designated hitter. I think it creates an unfair advantage for the National League during inter-league play. This is because, in inter-league play the teams play according to the ground rules of the stadium in which the game takes place. Now, some ground rules need to be in place. Not every stadium has ivy on the outfield wall like at Wrigley or a Green Monster like at Fenway. Dodger Stadium has no roof, so there is no need for a rule on what happens when the ball hits the roof. Safeco Field and other covered stadiums need to account for such eventualities. Where ground rules can unbalance a game, however, is with the DH. A National League team coming into an American League park has a distinct advantage. They get to take the pitcher out of the batting order and replace him with a position player…maybe that fourth outfielder or a young catcher who is great with the bat but still a defensive liability. Not only, does the NL team get to add some pop to the batting order, they also don’t have face the question of whether to pull a pitcher, not because of his pitching performance, but because of offensive considerations. The home AL team gets no added value, save the home field advantage that exists in the very structure of each and every game.
So let’s turn it around. The AL team goes into an NL park. What happens? Well, not only does the AL team lose a major part of their offense (since DH’s tend to be good hitters), but they replace him with a pitcher who rarely, if ever picks up a bat and may or may not be a proficient at bunting as the NL pitcher who bats on a regular basis and knows his role in the team’s offense. Now, the DH can be part of the lineup, if he’s able to go take a defensive position. For some, it’s fine. For others, like Edgar Martinez or any of any number of aging power hitters who extended their career by retiring the glove and taking up the bat full time, this can be painful and scary to watch and may very well compromise the team’s defense. In addition to all the offensive concerns, the AL manager finds himself in the unaccustomed position of having to factor the pitcher’s offensive (lack of ) prowess into decisions about whether to leave the pitcher in the game. The home NL team has the same considerations, but they are used to it, so they gain the advantage in both parks.
Now, the simple solution would be to have one set of rules for both leagues. Which one? Well, I personally prefer National League play. I think the presence of the pitcher in the batting order is a fun variable that makes the game more complex and requires more thinking and strategizing.
Lastly, baseball needs to employ some form of video review, not for balls and strikes, but for plays in the field. This was brought into focus last year with the umpire blowing a call on the last out of a perfect game in Detroit. Everybody admitted that the call was bad. The pitcher and the ump handled the situation with incredible class. Still, the official record of the game reflects the bad call and keeps the perfect game out of the record books. Baseball is paced in a play by play manner that works perfectly well for replays. Camera’s can clearly capture whether a call was bad or not. Rules can be introduced to govern video reviews like in the NFL. It does nobody any good to have a system where game-changing errors are there for all to see but the rules don’t allow for those errors to be corrected.
So as September begins to turn toward October and the post season gets started, those are my thoughts on a game I love and how to make it better.