A good Saturday morning everyone. I hope you’ve all had a pleasant week.
I want to go a bit off-uni today to discuss some of the changes that occurred over the offseason to the game I have always loved and will always love: Baseball. Every Opening Day brings a new sense of rebirth. No matter what team you root for, Opening Day always provides a glimmer of hope that, this year — finally — will be the year. We all know the famous Terrance Mann Field of Dreams soliloquy. That literally almost brings a tear to my eye each time I rewatch the movie.
I couldn’t think of a worse baseball Commissioner than Allan Huber Selig, until Robert D. Manfred, Jr. took over, and said “Hold My Beer!” Manfred enacted (with the owners’ blessings) a few changes during his tenure that I absolutely abhored — including but not limited to the universal DH, the “ghost” runner in extra innings (aka the “Manfred Man”), and of course, most egregiously, uniform advertisements. We’ve rightly complained about uni ads not just screwing with the aesthetics (ads on any uniform look bad), but forcing other changes such as the Phillies eliminating uni numbers on the sleeve, or the Reds having to literally create a new logo to correspond to a player’s “handedness.” Ugh.
And of course one of the worst things that happened in baseball started well before Manfred’s tenure: the amount of “dead” time. By that, I mean the time during the game when literally nothing was happening, despite both teams being on the field and ready to play. Whether it was batters doing anything but hitting…
…or pitchers farting around with the rosin bag, or incessantly throwing over to first with a runner on, or any other delaying tactics. And sure, Tony LaRussa back in the day didn’t help things when he’d change pitchers three times for three batters (despite what the sabermetrics and analytics, rudimentary as they were, told him). We’d joke that your typical Yankees-Red Sox game would take five hours, but that wasn’t far off.
Speaking of analytics, I’m sure many of you noticed that aside from the pace of play being noticeably slower than a few decades ago, the way the game has been played has also changed. The defensive shift — justified by the analytics — was being used on virtually every at-bat. Pitchers are now routinely touching 100 mph (including relievers) and strikeouts are way up. I believe it was the immortal “Crash” Davis who decried strikeouts as being fascist. Teams bunt and attempt steals less and less because the analytics tell them not to. There are countless other things that happened to cause baseball up through 2022 to become a much slower, much more boring game, than the one I (and many of you) grew up with.
But folks…that’s all about to change (and in a good way) this season and beyond. Through Spring Training games and just a couple days of regular season baseball, nothing short of a miracle has been happening — at least for those of us who have grown tired of the direction baseball has taken over the recent past. And it’s all due to three (really four, but more on that below) rule changes that will, if not make baseball fun again, certainly make it more enjoyable.
1. Pitch Timer
I’m sure you’re all at least familiar with this one, so here’s the basics:
The new pitch clock rules state that a pitcher gets 15 seconds to begin the motion to throw the ball with the bases empty and 20 seconds with runners on base. If he can’t do this in time, he is charged with a ball. The hitter, however, must also be ready to go in the batter’s box. He must be facing and looking at the pitcher with eight seconds left on the clock. If not, he gets charged with a strike.
You can read more on that here. Now, I’m largely a traditionalist when it comes to baseball (and a classicist when it comes to unis), and I always have lauded the fact that baseball is the one team sport where a clock never comes into play. In fact, when I learned MLB would be trying out the pitch timer (technically not a “clock”) in the minors, I was sure I’d hate it. However, after watching a few spring training games — and THEN watching the WBC, which was played under the old rules — I knew baseball was on to something. After watching just a few innings with the pitch timer, I’m hooked. Pitchers get the ball from the catcher and then they actually pitch! Batters stay in the box and hit! It’s a miracle, I tell ya. It’s honestly like the baseball I remember from my youth. The down time between actual pitched balls seems to be cut at least in half.
Yes, the pitch timer will take some getting used to (not just for fans, but players alike), but it’s amazing what a simple rule change has done to “speed” up the game. In the few regular season games I’ve watched so far, the pitch timer isn’t visible to the viewing audience (although the scorebug of a couple games — and perhaps all — does show the “countdown” once the timer reaches :08). At first, one is keenly aware of it, but after an inning or so, it almost seems an afterthought. The game just moves along at a pace that feels right. And it’s not just pitchers and batters — I saw the Mets get assessed a strike during Thursday’s game when Pete Alonso was lollygagging around first base. Sure, that happened to “my” team (and I wasn’t thrilled), but you can bet that’s probably the last time it happens to the Mets.
My one fear if you will with the pitch timer was that things would feel rushed — and I did see a few pitchers definitely getting flustered — but they don’t. We (and the players) have just slowly been so conditioned to the glacial pace of recent yore that it’s simply something which we’re all going to have to get used to.
1a. Pick-off attempts and step offs
While not specifically related to the pitch timer, this too will speed up the game. Pitchers are now allowed only two throws to first (or any base) with a runner on — if they attempt a third, they must pick the runner off or the runner will automatically be awarded the next base. The effect of this will be two-fold: it will speed up the game (because a pitcher can’t keep throwing to a base infinitely), but will also likely encourage more steal attempts. Why? Because if a pitcher has already thrown to first twice, he can’t throw over again unless the result is a pick-off. If the runner gets back to the base safely, he’ll be awarded second. As such, runners are likely to take larger leads (and hence attempt more steals) under this new scenario. If any of you fondly remember the likes of Lou Brock, Vince Coleman or Rickey Henderson (as I do), then the stolen base will become a much more common side effect of the rule change. I, for one, welcome this.
2. Larger Bases
If you haven’t noticed (and honestly — it’s really hard to tell, at least on TV), first, second and third base have all been increased from 15″ per side to 18″ per side. That three inch difference was primarily enacted for safety reasons. You can read more about that here. But, like the pitch timer, there is a side effect here and it relates to 1a above. More stolen base attempts will likely be the result. Why? Well, first and third base will now the 3″ closer to home, and the distance from first to second and second to third will be 4½” closer to each other than previously. That 4½” distance may not seem like much, but with the bang-bang nature of the stolen base (especially combined with the pick-off/step off rule) will inevitably make a successful stolen base attempt much more likely.
3. Defensive Shift Prohibitions
The above photo might be an extreme example, but the new rules now prevent the defensive shift by requiring teams to have at least two infielders on either side of second base, with all four positioned on the infield dirt, when a pitch is thrown. You can read more about this here. Of the three changes, this is the one with which I’m least excited. I am not a fan of the shift, per se, but I didn’t think the rules should be changed to prohibit it — but I understand why the change has been made. And in a few of the games I’ve watched so far this season (including Spring Training), there have been more than a few balls hit that have become base hits where in years prior, the shift would have eliminated that hit. If the object is to inject more offense into the game, then this will certainly achieve that goal.
It’s not a perfect panacea (just like the “livelier” ball wasn’t without its problems), but more base hits will certainly generate more excitement (at least for one of the teams involved, lol).
Baseball has had problems in the past (and surely will in the future), but as an avid watcher for 50 years, one of my biggest complaints was pace of play AND style of play. By style of play, I mean the increasing tendency, driven purely by analytics, to score runs by getting a runner on base and then hoping for a home run. If you’ve watched more than a dozen games over the past five years, you’ll agree. These three rule changes won’t eliminate that strategy/thinking entirely, but it’s returning the game to a quicker pace, with more action and less down time. Teams will adapt to those changes just like they have in the past. But I can’t think of a time I’ve been more excited to watch (and go see live) my all-time favorite sport.
I still think Rob Manfred is the worst commissioner baseball has ever had, but I tip my cap to him (and the owners) for these simple changes.
And to bring this back to unis — I watched most of the Mets/Marlins Thursday, and a few innings last night, and yes, the uni ad on the Marlins sucks (as it does on all teams) — but after about an inning or so, I honestly didn’t even notice the sleeve ad. It became a bit like white noise. And I couldn’t even tell you what corporate entity the team was advertising, because I was much more enthralled with how much fun the game is becoming again. In fact, I noticed the ad on the mound a lot more than the ad on the sleeve. I actually didn’t even remember who the ad was for until Mets color announcer Keith Hernandez mentioned it. Play-by-play announcer Gary Cohen semi-jokingly noted Keith was doing a plug for the sleeve advertiser (at which point Keith noted he was a consumer of said advertiser’s services) … but like much of what Keith says during a broadcast, it was quickly forgotten.
OK. Enough of this decidedly non-uni monologue. Baseball: I’m back!
Scoreboard is from the Rodgers Center, September 1, 2019 when Verlander threw his 2nd No-Hitter.
I’m still calling it SkyDome.
Wonder why they can’t call it Rogers Skydome? Must be some legal reason. Would be better than Rogers Centre. Calling a ballpark a “Centre” doesn’t work.
GTGFTS: Verlander no-hit the Jays 9/1/2019 game at Rogers Center
GTGFTS: I’m guessing Houston beat Toronto 2-0 in curling.
Also, I think nameplates look better than direct-sown lettering. They somehow look more official, more authentic.
Phil – well said and largely agree.
Universal DH was inevitable. Sadly, uniform ads were too, once the NBA started doing it and the NHL followed. No billionaire is going to turn down a chance to make a few million more while playing in taxpayer-funded stadiums, even if it means desecrating a cherished uniform. The change that rankles me most is the Manfred Man. Extra innings are tense enough, don’t penalize a team by putting an opposing runner in scoring position for no reason other than it was tied after 9.
The pace of play changes have been great. The game I grew up watching had no clock and was played in a tidy 2:30 or so. Nobody took a minute between pitches to adjust their body armor. Pitchers got the ball, got the sign, and pitched. Teams didn’t send 6 pitchers to the mound to get through 9 innings. Getting back toward this can make for a better game that still has no real clock.
As a couple of Manfred Mann b-sides aptly say regarding the “ghost runner,” “Without You,” “Do YOu Have to Do That,” I cannot adequately explain how much it bothers me. Hate hate hate it.
Would love to see the Marlins go back to those Uniforms full time. They had their most successful times as a club wearing those and I think most people prefer those over their current set.
Add the 1993 Marlins alternate to the list of “teams that need to go back to this uniform fulltime”. Just like we always say about the football team in Miami.
I do want the Marlins in teal, but I can’t say I’d like to see the ‘Phins back in full time throwbacks.
Guess it’s because I like the modern take on the the aqua and orange (maybe I’m the only one!)…Miami MLB has yet to improve on their original set – I doubt that’s even possible.
LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the new pitch clock. Don’t want to hear a single player bitch about it. You’re professionals, adjust. Let’s not forget, the players brought this upon themselves with their tedious delays. Constantly stepping off the mound, calling timeout to fidget with their batting gloves and adjust their nuts. As for whiny fans…they’re not eliminating any of the actual game…only the dead time. I’m already enjoying games more than I have in years.
It’s like the players and baseball needed a collective spanking to get them behave properly again.
But if the umpires would have enforced the rules correctly in the first place, the clock should’ve never been needed in the first place.
Hoping after a few years the clock will be removed and the umps will be told by the league “don’t screw this up again or I’ll turn this car around one more time!”
Some very happy scores from Opening Day:
Ad-Clad Boston 9, Baltimore 10
Ad-Clad Angels 1, Oakland 2
Ad-Clad Houston 2, Chicago (A) 3
Ad-Clad Florida 3, New York (N) 5
Ad-Clad Arizona 2, Los Angeles (N) 8
Ad-Clad San Diego 2, Colorado 8
Ad-Clad Cincinnati 4, Pittsburgh 5
It’s Miami. That color is aqua.
It’s not real for sure (teal has more green) and I really don’t know what color it is. But it isn’t aqua. Aqua is the Dan Marino or Bob Griese Dolphins. I like the color and prefer it as dominant to black on the original Marlins’ uniforms. But I prefer the current color palette (just need to de-emphasize black and unghost the numbers and cap logo).
For the Marlins in the gorgeous unis last night it’s Teal. Pantone 320. Jacksonville of the NFL and San Jose of NFL both Teal Pantone 3155 C. The NBA Charlotte’s Hornets are Teal Pantone PMS 3145 C. Don’t get me started on Hex, RGB, or CMYK.
You will be bored to death.
GTGFTU: 22 July 1987. Reds 5 @ Phillies 3. Veterans Stadium. Jeff Stone is about to be thrown out trying to steal second, tagged out be Reds 2B (!) Dave Concepcion (giving upstart rookie Barry Larkin the gig at shortstop). Digging through history was made easier because the Phillies changed their uniforms slightly in 1987 (thicker numbers, slightly darker maroon… can’t remember when NOB went from radial arched to vertically arched, it may have been 1987 as well), and Jeff Stone didn’t play all that much.
Ahhh, you beat me to it. I didn’t really remember Jeff Stone, but it looks like he only wore #14 for his last 2 years in Philly. I also didn’t remember Concepcion switching to 2B late in his career.
Jeff Stone was just one of many prospects the Phillies overvalued in the ’80s and didn’t pan out. Fast as hell but not a great hitter. He was one of the guys who wore #14 after Pete Rose left.
Those details you mentioned are spot-on.
Looking back, it’s disappointing that the Reds didn’t use the wishbone C for Concepcion’s captaincy…though not as disappointing as moving away from the black cleats and the pullovers.
Great post. Agree with almost everything. I wish the shift would’ve ebbed organically. Ideally, hitters would’ve just “hit it where they ain’t” and defenders would’ve adjusted. Baseball still has a huge problem: too many HRs and too many Ks. Not sure how to fix it.
Agreed, I can’t believe MLB hitters can’t beat the shift hitting to the opposite field, even as a Little Leaguer, I could push the ball to RF, small shift in my stance, move up in the box a pinch, not that I was perfect at it, but I could do it.
MLB hitters could beat the shift, but the data says trying to hit a home run is better than a single, so they don’t. That’s why MLB banned the shift, because teams weren’t going to go back to hitting away from it.
When you were in Little League, were you facing guys throwing 98-100 with movement and spin every at-bat? No? Me neither. Analytics determined that swinging from the heels and hoping for a launch-angle home run was better than putting the ball in play at about the same time guys didn’t take the mound unless they threw gas.
Sorry, but as bad as Manfred is, he’s still a wee pretender next to Bowie Kuhn, the Nickelback of sports commissioners.
Off topic but I have to ask; how is Nickelback worse, or even different, from other typical rock bands? I don’t get the internet piling on, other than it’s just the thing to do on the internet.
Absolutely, the Oilers name needs to return to Houston. Just like Jazz needs to go back to New Orleans. Houston Oilers. New Orleans Jazz.
The Bobcats went rather easily back to being the Hornets and the Thrashers wasted no time becoming the Jets. Why were their name changes so painless while the Jazz and Oilers have been so intractable?
It was Adams that refused to release the Oilers name, as I understand it. Despite him asking for the Titans name to which the Jets franchise would have had the rights.
In the NBA, I thought that the New Orleans, Utah, and Charlotte could have had a three-way swap: the Jazz to NO, the Hornets to NC, and the Bobcats to Utah.
I do like that idea of Memphis with the Kings, but I also think one of the oldest basketball franchises gets a pass for their history of noble names.
This completely wrong. Pro teams don’t have “rights” with regard to nicknames only, else we would have the organizations sending cease and decease orders and filing damage suits against every college, high school and little league/pee-wee teams which shared or copied the rather generic nicknames of the pros. Oh, I suppose that the NFL could have prevented the use of a nickname used before by a vote of the constitute owners, but the current Jets franchise had no legal right in the nickname “Titans”. rather, they have trademark protection in the entire name of the predecessor franchise, in that case Titans of New York Football Club. That trademark would extend to any logos, colors and unforms. So, there could never be another New York Titans without the surrender, transfer or prolonged non-enforcement of the trademark. That’s why the current Houston NFL franchise had absolutely no beef with the Hunt family using Texans even though the Chiefs predecessor used the same nickname, but they did so in Dallas, not Houston. The Hunts, I presume, still hold the trademark to a Dallas Texans Football Club which I suppose they could enforce were Houston to wander north to a new home with the same nickname. Of course, the most famous case of the non-continuous trademark was when well-known a-hole Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore. Modell was compelled to give up the trademarks, name and even history of the Browns as a settlement of multiple lawsuits with the city of Cleveland and the league over leases and contracts which would not only scuttle the move of the team but also likely push Modell into personal and professional bankruptcy. Thus the “new” Browns are an interrupted continuation of the original Browns, and the Ravens considered an expansion franchise with no history before the move. Unfortunately, the league and Houston did not have the same leverage over Bud Adams, so he was able to take everything associated with the Oilers to Tennessee. So long as the Adams family demurs you just have to get over ever seeing an Oilers team in Houston wearing baby blue and sporting the oil derrick logo.
“Wrong”? Let’s say, “simplified”. So by rights, of course it’s “intellectual property rights”. And there’s a reason the Hunts didn’t challenge the name:
The league promised Adams they wouldn’t allow another Oilers. He also likely felt he could use the Titans name since he did help out the Jets franchise during some lean financial times. The Jets organization did give it’s blessing, despite having no IP claim to a “Tennessee Titans Football Club” or whatever legal name it goes by.
Anyway, it boils down to petty ownership.
The Jazz are Utah at this point, they only had a short stint in NO. And I like when a team with a locale-specific name moves somewhere else and ends up with a mismatch, like Utah Jazz, LA Lakers, Calgary Flames, etc. If the Jazz name went back to New Orleans, the Laker name has to go back to Minnesota.
Good. Go ahead and do it. Minneapolis Lakers has a nice ring to it. Utah is the Jazz? Hahaha. No chance. New Orleans embodies jazz in every way. While we’re at it, Memphis Grizzlies needs to go away too.
Memphis and Sacramento could change names. Grizzlies would be a better fit for a California team while Kings could honor MLK in Memphis.
I love the automatic runner in extra innings for, at least, five reasons:
1. No team is penalized. They both get the runner every half inning.
2. Length of play. You’re reasonably sure the game isn’t going to go 12-18 innings.
3. Bullpens. You’re reasonably sure your team’s bullpen isn’t going to be ravaged for the next three days because of one game.
4. Pitching. You’re reasonably sure your team isn’t going to lose the game because your left fielder’s ephus pitch isn’t good enough.
5. Action. Every half-inning after nine is guaranteed to have more action than usual.
I agree with you.
Phil – I agree with everything you said today, except that as bad as Manford is as Commissioner, Bud Selig was the worst. The worst Phil, the worst.
Posting a Portnoy tweet…woof, not a good look
Well, I’m thankful he’s not mayor of Houston.
This proves the adage that “a stopped clock is right twice a day”. He had this thing I read where he tried almost every pizzeria in the state of New Jersey at some point and I had to concede that he got some right from down my way. I didn’t feel good about it either.
I disagree completely on the universal DH. My primary team would not have made the playoffs let alone the World Series without it. And seriously is there any pitcher other than Ohtani you want to see at the plate?
So many get hung up on this idea that DH-haters just loooooved to watch pitchers hit. It was a beautiful bit of strategy for fans to guess and second-guess whether a pitcher would hit for himself or be removed for a pinch-hitter in a tight game. That’s my, and a lot of people’s reason, for hating the DH.
I also just hate the idea of a one-dimensional athlete sitting around on the bench, or worse, swinging a bat under the stands somewhere, while his teammates are competing in the field.
Yep, adding the DH just removed the last little bit of strategy that was involved in baseball. Do teams even do things like double switches anymore?
I’m not sure what a manager actually does now. Just go tell every batter to hit a home run?
I agree with Phil about the rule changes.
There will be a period of adjustment and maybe a few tweaks, but ultimately they will be great for baseball.
Love the clock. Way overdue. Baseball was losing an entire generation of fans.
Like Phil, I’m not thrilled with the shift rule. I feel the same way about the 3 pick-off attempts.
But I understand why it needed to be done.
Was Nomar a bigger culprit than Mike Hargrove? He was known as the Human Rain Delay.
I’d like to be that kind of history jerk and say that while Manfred is the worst commissioner in modern era, Kenesaw Mountain Landis is the worst commissioner of all time by virtue of continuing the segregation of baseball.
The pitch clock is a revelation. Games are now closer to 2.5 hours than 3 and that’s a godsend. Also, the defensive shift ban should not be necessary, but hitter approaches have completely changed to focus on only pulling the ball and trying to pull as hard as possible in order to hit more homeruns. If hitters could go back to focusing on being all fields hitters, then a shift ban would not be needed because defenses would not shift every pitch of every ab. Alas that’s not how modern hitting works.
The idea that having a universal DH is wrong and highly antiquated. I’m not going to sugar coat it. No one wants to see pitchers hit. The NL stubbornly holding onto that tradition even as basically every other professional baseball organization, affiliated or not, abandoned it years ago was silly and stupid and just contributed to pitcher injuries. It’s been a great thing for the UDH to finally be a thing.
Was at the Rays opener specifically to see how the game “felt” before passing judgement. What I observed was:
1) The only way you notice the clock after about the first inning is if you are looking for it.
1a) Most pitches were still delivered in less than 15 seconds even with runners on.
2) There were about 3-4 singles that would have been outs with the shift.
3) You don’t notice the bigger bases. Granted I was in the cheap seats in left, but still.
4) The game was over in 2:14. Absolutely unheard of for the last 20 years unless Mark Beuhrle was pitching a perfect game.
5) Selig and Manfred are different ends of the same turd, but even a blind squirrel finds nuts occasionally.
Can’t wait to see more MLB games now.
There’s a very ugly feud between the Adams clan who owns the Oilers/Titans and the city of Houston.
It dates back to the days when Bud Adams started the Oilers. He was a nouveau riche who would crash society parties driving a fire truck. Having the establishment tycoons against him hurt him when he went begging for a new stadium. Pointedly, once he was gone, we voted a stadium to Bob McNair, a very, very respectable billionaire.
So Bud’s daughter Amy now enacts vengeance by refusing to sell the Oilers name.
I am in favor of all these changes. Heck, on the shift rule I would not even be against all fielders having an assigned area, including the outfield.
The only thing I need MLB to do now is fix the streaming situation so we can actually watch games. I live in New England. NESN is available on cable and fubo (Assuming the latter is still true). I would gladly signup for mlb.tv except the one team’s games I am not allowed to watch are the only team I want to watch. It is ridiculous.
NESN did finally offer a streaming option but at the ludicrous price of $1/day or $330/year.
I’m in Nashville. Holding out hopes that The Titans ditch the existing mess of swords, swooshes and splotches and return to something more Oilers traditional when the new stadium is done. Houston can have the red sets they appear to covet. Give TN the light blue.
I enjoy the new baseball season thru spring training, then reality hits that it’ll be another season fighting Pittsburgh for the bottom position – ie the usual Cincy Reds disappointment.
There’s competitive clubs and there’s doormats… Doormat seasons last about two days.