Main menu


What Baseball Needed Most Was Change

Last week, when the Rules Committee of Major League Baseball finished discussing, voting on, and finally approving a set of rule changes to go into effect in 2023, I was reminded over and over again in our conversations. One of the sentiments I had was, “Spring training is going to be very interesting.”

I’m serious! Of course, this week is also interesting. As smart people covering the sport explain the details and speculate on the implications. As with all conversations about rule changes, certain segments of the baseball-watching population view pitch timers as evidence of poor fidelity to the game, undermining baseball’s status as a sport without a clock. Then the logic works. why are you trying to change that?

In response to these clichéd reactions, proponents of rule change, or indeed those who understand the underlying logic, argue that it’s not about moving forward, it’s about getting back to better baseball. doing.

Baseball’s existential crisis crystallizes around a widespread belief that the current game isn’t as “aesthetically pleasing” as it is worse than it used to be, or to use lofty terms. was made at the expense of the ball in play. Great pitching beat out great pitchers, at least in the late innings. Games are longer than they used to be, with less action and more dead time. Often reminiscing about what it was like as a child, changing the rules is sold to the public as a means of restoration rather than evolution.

Nothing is wrong per se. The problems, or at least the symptoms of those problems, are clear to the point. Also, comparisons to earlier times help highlight how some issues have gotten out of hand. Change just for the sake of change.

“My victory today is the fact that the game is going to be a little different,” said Harold Reynolds, who moderated the televised press conference at the MLB office where the rule change was announced.

It’s a bold declaration, unwittingly proving just how resistant the fanbase is to change, especially on behalf of a commissioner who can’t seem to escape criticism for not liking the sport. .

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks to media during the MLB Rules Press Conference at MLB Headquarters in New York, Friday, Sept. 9, 2022. (Photo by Eve Kilsheimer/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

On the field, baseball is an athletic endeavor. But in an ever-growing front office, baseball is like a puzzle. And with current players making Babe Ruth look like a beer league softball star, the game’s modern-day problems come from the front office. I’m just trying to make the team better.

Analysis Avatar’s Theo Epstein basically said when he announced his resignation as head of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs, Almost an apology for the revolution he helpedHe drew a direct causal relationship between front office optimization and negative entertainment value. Taking it a step further, not only do teams know how to win empirically, but all teams know how to win in the same way. Homogenization by optimization. The puzzle created by the current baseball rules has been solved. Now let’s change the parameters of the puzzle.

“I think turmoil in general is a good thing because it creates diversity in the reactions that organizations will have to the new set of rules,” said Epstein, who has been an MLB consultant. rice field.

“Given the long standing status quo, 30 organizations will focus on where they have a competitive advantage, where there are loopholes in the rules, where they are most efficient, optimize their overall operations, We can do scouting, player development, major league and coaching staff to maximize cost effectiveness in these areas.”

He couldn’t resist the nostalgic machinations, referring to how baseball had diversified 20 or 30 years ago, pointing out that there were no significant rule changes during that time.

“So some of the fundamental changes we’re seeing here today are that the resourceful, most strategic, smartest organizations are probably already thinking about how to respond to the new situation. And I think that’s a good thing, and many organizations will have different types of responses.”

It will last as long as it takes to quantify the new best way to win. Thirty teams of good baseball brains with high-stakes incentives and an entire cottage industry of professional armchair analysts. are participating. Sometimes I think what baseball really needs is a more drastic overhaul to force a scattershot adaptation, rather than precise fixes aimed at specific flaws in the current game. The success of Twenty20 cricket provides a compelling case in theory, but while players may feel that the process was rushed, MLB has done extensive testing and at least a sense of cooperation before making any changes. I prefer gestures. That process is necessarily slower, but less static. And to its credit, that’s the plan stated.

Competition committees that approve these changes will only have 45 days to discuss the new rules before voting on their implementation. Morgan Sword, executive vice president of baseball operations, said Friday that “the meeting will continue and we may discuss additional minor changes for ’23.”

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has echoed that sentiment in a broader sense. MLB is like a giant ocean liner that needs a wide berth, but perhaps that could change a little bit for the better. “We hope that over time, the competition committee will become an ongoing review process of how we play. [and] It’s a more agile process to make adjustments,” he said.

The fiction of sheer continuity is an important part of baseball’s appeal, a timeless way to connect fans across generations. But it’s just fiction. League conditions and styles of play are constantly changing, even without a scale. Subtle and slow changes are part of the problem. Regardless of how you feel about the specific rule change itself, it’s really exciting to see the teams adjust for next season.