VOL. 131 | NO. 151 | Friday, July 29, 2016
The Press Box
MLB Commissioner Needs More Faith in His Game
By Don Wade
Steph Curry, you’re too good. So as decreed by NBA commissioner Adam Silver, you are now limited to seven 3-point attempts per game and no more than two in the fourth quarter.
Yet MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is so desperate to speed up the game and put more offense into the later innings, he potentially would be in favor of rules limiting the number of relief pitchers used in a single game or even a single inning.
And his chief reason for perhaps rewriting the rulebook? Relief pitchers are too good at their jobs.
All the pro games go through cycles. Right now, the relief pitcher is a weapon. That’s why the Chicago Cubs just traded for closer Aroldis Chapman, who can throw a ball 105 mph.
When Manfred appeared on a national radio show and went full bore down this strange path, he didn’t come right out and say the game must cater to millennials. But he essentially did say that in today’s 140-character world, people don’t have the attention span for baseball.
“You know the problem with relief pitchers is they’re so good,” Manfred said in an interview on ESPN radio. “I’ve got nothing against relief pitchers, but they do two things to the game: The pitching changes themselves slow the game down, and our relief pitchers have become so dominant at the back end that they actually rob action out of the last few innings of a game.”
Translation: Action means hits and runs, preferably home runs. Manfred surely does not want baseball to be perceived as having a steroid problem in 2016, but maybe he secretly yearns for the bad old days when a ballooned-up Barry Bonds and other sluggers dominated.
Realistically, a rule change this drastic would have to be planned for and not implemented for many years. But it’s a little shocking Manfred is so open in endorsing the notion.
Several big-league managers sounded off against the suggestion, with Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell saying the limitations would “artificially control the game.”
Farrell is spot-on.
I asked Memphis Redbirds manager Mike Shildt for his take. He was careful to say he didn’t want to speak against the commissioner, but he also winced at the premise behind changing the game’s rules in such an extreme way.
“I love the timelessness of the game,” Shildt said. “I love the strategy of it. And if you strip it of strategy, then what do we have? Clearly, there would be a different kind of strategy and I get that, too. You’d really have to be careful about using your bullets if you limited your relievers.
“But player health figures in. You potentially extend guys more (and they could be more likely to be injured).”
Yes, that’s the flip side to a tiring No. 3 starter soldiering on to the seventh inning and giving up a three-run blast that turns a game. That fatigued starter is more likely to blow out his elbow. And if Tommy John surgeries aren’t an epidemic problem in baseball, what is?
Manfred is starting from the assumption that baseball has a fundamental flaw because it is slower. But he misunderstands his own game. Baseball’s appeal is in its refuge as a take-a-breath escape. Fans enjoy having time to second-guess those late-inning moves.
So improve the replay process and cut time that way. Make hitters stay in the batter’s box. But the game’s lack of a clock is what separates it. Or as Shildt said: “What are you in a hurry to do? People come for enjoyment. You don’t see people in a bad mood at a ballpark. People are happy.
“We got enough stuff going on outside in this world and we can get back to that reality quickly. What’s it matter if there’s an extra 20 minutes of people laughing and having a good time and chasing a foul ball and getting some popcorn?”
Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.