“The only thing that stays the same is
Everything changes, everything changes”
-Tracy Lawrence “Time marches on”
It’s not often I’ll call something out from a syndicated columnist, and certainly, I’ve not had MY opinions about the game recorded on Ken Burns’ “Baseball” documentary series, but a recent George Will column titled “The time has come to save baseball by changing the rules” is more emblematic of the issues with baseball than a solution for the game.
My background writing about the game comes down to a few thousand articles put forth on online websites, and while I interviewed for positions with teams and maintain contacts with some major league teams, I ended up turning down the jobs I was offered due to family concerns and have never worked in the game of baseball.
That all said, Mr. Will asserts that the game itself is broken due to increased technology along with bigger, strong athletes playing the game. The technology drives infield shifting, fewer stolen bases and less bunting, and those better athletes, along with notable training institutes like Driveline Baseball, have increased their physicality and ability to throw off the mound while also maximizing their swing for power at contact.
What Mr. Will leaves out is that Major League Baseball (MLB) has done its own work to artificially manipulate the game in order to have some of the statistics he rattled off regarding a lack of hits show up in the first place.
The baseball that MLB uses is manufactured by Rawlings, and that’s all well and good until you find out that MLB actually OWNS a significant share of Rawlings.
Over the past few seasons, the league has manipulated the makeup of the baseball to lead to significantly different offensive results, from the 2019 season that had more home runs hit than any season in history, including TWO teams breaking the single-season team record for most home runs in a season by a single team, to this year’s results, which have been putrid for batters, but, as in every season, have began to get notably more hitter-friendly as the weather warms up.
Will referenced the time of the game lengthening, and that this is a symptom of hitters and pitchers taking more time to recover from their max-effort deliveries and swings. His suggestion was a 20-second pitch clock. The funny part is that this has already been utilized in pro baseball at multiple levels and shown that it doesn’t necessarily speed up the game at all on its own. A hitter or catcher can simply call timeout, and the pitch clock resets.
Indeed, studies have been done that found that the increase in game time between the modern game and fully televised games in the 1980s that can be found in archives is not additional commercials or even additional relief pitchers being used, which is one thing frequently mentioned.
Instead, it’s primarily the amount of time in between each pitch, due to the increased amount of time that batters use adjusting their batting gloves and stepping out of the box.
Pitchers, in general, used the same amount of time between pitches in the different eras.
What Mr. Will did, however, is exactly what is hurting the game overall. Rather than promote the exciting players in today’s game that are certainly generational talents, if not historical talents, in the case of someone like Shohei Ohtani, far too many who pontificate about the game on television, on the radio, or in print find every angle possible to tear the game apart.
Baseball has changed significantly in its 150 years of evolution.
It’s changed significantly as a game in the last 20-30 years in response to multiple changes in the makeup of who is on the field.
Players from Latin America, once a minority within the game, now are the majority, especially among the game’s superstars.
That change in demographic has altered how players respond to the game itself on the field, bringing the exuberance of Latin baseball to MLB, and it’s absolutely a positive thing. It appeals to a younger generation, bringing in new fans to the game.
Now, if only those who are attempting to do gatekeeping for the game could cease bashing it, perhaps a new generation could come to love the game that was once passed down to me by multiple generations of my family that saw tremendous growth of the sport in their time of being fans.
Change happens, with us or without us. It’s best to hop on board moving forward, because change will come, as it has for millennia before and will for millennia to come.