Major League Baseball’s Identity Theft

There was a time when baseball was America’s national pastime. That statement is no longer valid. There was also a time when you could ask kids to play baseball and everyone knew how the game was played. That is also no longer valid. Bud Selig, former baseball commissioner, did a lot of good for the game, mostly for the owners. As advertising dollars and TV revenue has grown, reaching $9 billion a year for the sport as whole. In addition to the flux of TV money, fundamentals additions have taken place. Instead of instincts and intangibles leading our game, it’s been taken over by technology and safety concerns.

There is always talk about teams needing to know their identity. Are they a power team? speed team? pitching heavy? But how can we expect a team to understand their identity when the league can’t lock down their own? What is baseball today? Is it the blue-collar, hard-nosed game that people grew up loving through the 1950s-1980s? Maybe it’s the “chicks dig the long ball” steroid plagued 90s. Who could forget the numerous Q&A sessions with the government in the 2000s. But as we sit here in 2015, baseball has begun to go into a different direction; beginning to change the most sacred thing of all, the play on the field.

As technology has advanced and other sports have used those advances to help the game, baseball has succumb to outside pressure and followed suit. We now have to deal with replay reviews because people have claimed the most important thing is to get the call right. Yet, even with replay, we’ve had numerous plays debated over whether or not they got the call right. Plus, we’re not even touching on the fact that the process means we have to sit and wait through to get an answer to the replay review, adding boredom to the now already 3 hour game. I’d rather watch a manager yell at the umpire then watch a few umpires make phone calls.

Human error is a part of the game. There are moments etched in baseball history that wouldn’t be there if we had to wait for a replay review. Derek Jeter had many memorable moments in his eventual hall of fame career but how different would it be had Jeffrey Maier not reached out his arms? Whose to say if we had replay then we would have had “clear evidence” to overturn the home run call and rule it fan interference? Would it have had played a factor with Bartman? Don Denkinger probably cost the Cardinals the World Series in 1985, but if we had replay, the Cardinals would have one more trophy, and the Royals would have more added years of futility. The strike zone is always debatable and replay hasn’t touched that yet, but with talk having surrounded that topics for years already, the sharks must be swarming to fix the “issue.”

Now we come to the upcoming season. Last year they instituted the horrendous rule that a base runner could no longer collide with a catcher at home point, that the catcher must give the runner a path to the plate. This obviously was made after much talk about safety concerns and an injury to San Francisco Giants star catcher Buster Posey in which he broke his leg in a collision at the plate. Forget the fact that Posey was in a bad position and wasn’t blocking the plate properly, those things apparently were unimportant. I’m sure people even pointed to Ray Fosse and how he never recovered following the all-star game collision with Pete Rose. Wait, are we allowed to mention Pete Rose, did he even play baseball? Anyway, with the population gravitating more toward football and complaints about baseball games lasting too long, the league has looked into ways to improve the and speed up the game.

Despite a trial run in the Arizona Fall League and mostly positive reviews, a 20 second pitch clock will not be instituted this season. That doesn’t mean it’s not coming eventually but at least for now it’s not something we’ll have to deal with it. This is another idea to improve the “pace of the game.” But does that make it right? Today’s generation wants everything instantly and an attention span lastly longer than a few minutes is hard to find, so a rule limiting time may be a forced one.

One new rule that seems to have a better chance is a rule stating hitters must keep one foot in the batters box between pitches, except for when a foul ball, wild pitch, or time out occurs. The issue with this is the penalty for stepping out of the box is a called strike. Is it really right to have a batter called out on strikes because he stepped out of the box? Again, do we really need a rule for this? I may sound old and repetitive when I say this, but was this an issue with players 30-40 years ago?

Another rule being discussed, again going down the road of safety, is the talk of a player having to slide directly into second base, no longer being able to deviate their path for a takeout slide. There’s no other response for this rule than to say it is ridiculous. If you think the players had some outcry following the home plate collision rule last year, if this rule gets put in wait to hear the backlash that follows it. Some players like Jimmy Rollins have already voiced their displeasure with even the thought of it.

Baseball also apparently isn’t ready to slow down with coming up with new ideas despite the lack of success with their recent changes. Also on the docket for discussion is something to force managers to make a quicker decision to the umpires concerning a replay review. Yes, baseball was so concerned with how long the actual review would take last year, they completely overlooked they fact that there was a strategy behind it for managers and they would continually go out and have conversations with umpires, wasting time, as they looked into the dugout waiting for the signal on whether to ask for a review. Yes, that certainly had an effect on the pace of the game.

Lastly, they are going to look over the home plate collision rule again. Despite the backlash and confusion surrounding the rule last year, the league pushed forward with it and it worked out as expected, horribly. Controversial calls and obvious misinterpretations of the rule forced the league to clarify twice last season. Apparently it’s still not clear enough so they’ll be looking at it again. Here’s the thing when it comes to these rule changes, whether it’s safety related or pace related, it all goes back to baseball’s standing with the public.

No longer being the national pastime and being passed over by football, baseball has watched football and the changes they’ve been forced to make to the sport and followed suit. What baseball doesn’t comprehend is they are not the NFL. People watch the NFL because it’s a physical, in your face type of game. When the final two minutes of a close game takes a half hour do you hear people complain about the NFL’s pace of game? Also, despite the necessity of the NFL to make rule changes for safety reasons, it’s affected the product of the field and gotten a negative reaction from their fan base. So why does baseball continually follow in their footsteps?

Baseball is in an identity crisis. They’re so concerned with trying to regain their national pastime label that they think following the mold of their conqueror and giving in to any outside noise will help them do so. However, that’s just not the case. Baseball is not an “in your face” physical sport like football, and taking the few physical contacts plays out of baseball doesn’t just hurt the product on the field, it cripples it. There’s been so much talk concerning integrity and authenticity over the last few weeks with concern over the hall of fame, how can we hold these players to the standards the league has apparently disregarded. It’s hard to teach the history of the game when you watch a video and the play looks drastically different from it does today. It also makes it harder to teach the game in general when it’s continually changing from its foundation.

“If it’s not broke don’t fix it,” a saying that baseball should seriously consider. Instead of worrying about changing the game the way others have done in different sports, realize your sport is different. Instead of making changes, maybe teaching the proper mechanics will make the game safer. TV Commercials have hurt the pace of the game, but we’re not cutting commercials. We also wouldn’t need rules about a batter keeping his feet in the batters box. If you want to be the national pastime again then realize your sport has it’s own identity, but you’re covering it up. Stop following in other sports footsteps, go back to your roots and play the game you’ve played for decades, the game your grandfather and his grandfather played. Play it the right way and just like in Field of Dreams, they will come.

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