Saturday, November 19, 2011

Save Baseball From Striking Out

Save Baseball From Striking Out
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
November 19, 2011

Baseball – the greatest game ever invented – so majestic, so precise, yet simultaneously so imprecise. Now baseball needs to save itself from, well, itself.

From pitcher’s mound to home plate: 60 feet, six inches; not 60 feet; not 61 feet. Distance between the bases: 90 feet. These are dimensions that have worked for over 125 years.

Nine innings – not a round number like 10; three outs in each half of an inning; three strikes and you’re out, four balls and you get a free pass to first base. However, if the catcher can’t hold on to strike three; the batter can try to advance to first base. If he succeeds, the pitcher is still credited with a strikeout and can actually earn four of them in that inning.

Baseball is a game unlike any other – no clock, the team on defense has the ball, a moving object (bat) is required to hit another moving object (ball) in order to achieve success. While the dimensions of the infield are precisely equal in all baseball stadia, the outfield dimensions vary widely – some known to have cavernous outfields, some with short distances and tall fences such as the famed Green Monster in Boston’s Fenway Park left field, while all football fields, basketball courts and ice hockey rinks have set dimensions per each sport.

Baseball is a game of inches, statistics, stories and especially stories about statistics. There is bound to be someone is most any conversation who can rattle off the most innocuous information that only another baseball fan can and will appreciate. And the virtues of everything from the designated hitter to interleague play to instant replay can be argued ad-nauseum and picked up again the next day without repeating the prior day’s points.

The majesty of a walk off home run, sitting on pins and needles throughout a potential no hitter, the excitement of a perfectly turned double play, the speed needed for a triple and the argument over safe or out on a close call at home plate are what makes the game the enduring treasure it has been for so long.

Yet, for all its glory as America’s pastime, baseball doesn’t seem to be able to get out of its own way. For purists like me and myriad other fans, baseball is on the critical list and is on a fast pace to morphing into football, or worse, basketball and hockey.

A 69-word blurb buried in the space-filling “other news” of the sports section garnering little attention elsewhere dropped a bomb on baseball fans that will inexorably alter the complexion of America’s game in perpetuity.

“Is this good news,” read the subject line of an e-mail sent to me by a very good friend with a link to an article announcing that not only are the Houston Astros being sold, but the sale is being predicated upon a move by the Astros from the National League’s Central Division to the American League’s West Division effective the 2013 season.

The answer to my friend’s question is NO – a thousand times – NO! Moving the Astros to the American League is an astronomical mistake leading Major League Baseball down a rapid slope to oblivion. No baseball purist likes this decision, which also includes adding two more teams to the post-season, upping that total to 10 teams out of a 30-team league.

Consider the history of baseball and the post-season. Until 1961 and 1962 the American League and National League each contained eight teams, of which one per league would face off in the World Series. Two out of 16 equaled 12.5 percent of the teams earned a berth in post-season. Then came expansion, two divisions per league and the number of teams participating in post-season doubled to four out of 24 teams, equaling 16.7 percent. This was followed by additional expansion, the creation of a third division per league and the advent of the wild card team in the playoffs, making the post-season participants now eight of 30 teams, or 26.7 percent.

By adding two more wild card teams, post-season at 10 of 30 teams for a 33.3 percent participation rate, baseball is heading toward football with its 37.5 percent as well as basketball and hockey with its obscenely 53.5 percent post-season participation rates. After playing a 162-game baseball schedule, post-season should be for those teams at the apex of the sport.

But an even bigger obscenity than two more playoff teams is the affect moving the Astros to the American League will have on all of Major League Baseball – that of season-long interleague play. Interleague play was not designed for the purists, but instead to lure new fans to the game who would be excited by seeing the Mets play the Yankees, the Cubs battle the White Sox, the Nationals play the Orioles, the Reds go up against the Indians, the Giants play the A’s or the Dodgers take on the Angels. No one is standing in line waiting for those Padres-Royals tickets.

Baseball purists, who, like me, despise interleague play as it diminishes the All-Star game and more importantly the World Series. We also do not like the designated hitter rule, artificial turf (which fortunately is disappearing little by little) or even lights at Wrigley Field. To me, the evils of interleague play ranks right up there with anti-Semitism, communism and al Qaeda. It will further erode the traditions of the game.

If there is a desire to balance out the leagues, as currently there are 16 National League teams and 14 in the American League, there is a better plan. Eliminate the Miami Marlins and the Tampa Bay Rays as baseball should not be played in Florida after April 1; not to mention the paucity of pitching and overall weaker talent pool due to too much expansion. Then, with 28 teams, return the Milwaukee Brewers to the American League from whence they came, eliminate the two central divisions and there will be two 14-team leagues with four seven-team divisions.

I realize my plan will only be popular with the purists. After all, the players’ union would never approve such of such a plan as two teams worth of players from the majors all the way down to rookie ball would be out of jobs.

And moving the Astros is already causing consternation among their fans. Currently, the Astros division rivals play either in the Central Time Zone or the Eastern Time Zone. Moving to the American League West Division would force the Astros to play the majority of their division rivals when on the road in the Pacific Time Zone – two hours later would their fans need to stay awake to follow the team that has spent its first 50 seasons in the National League.

Either way interleague play must cease. As long as the designated hitter exists, it creates an imbalance during interleague play. When playing in National League ballparks, no DH is employed giving the edge to the NL teams whose pitchers bat throughout the season, and American League pitchers swing the bat but a couple weeks during the season. The same advantage goes to the NL when playing in AL ballparks, as they add an everyday hitter to their lineup, while AL teams continue to play at traditional strength. I’m for eliminating the DH, but again, the players’ union would undoubtedly object the potential loss of 14 additional jobs – “it’s all about the dollars,” to quote Joe Pesci from the film Casino.

Nothing good emerges from these decisions to expand the playoffs, move the Astros and engage in season-long interleague play. It is taking baseball further away from its roots and traditions and Commissioner Bud Selig must be made aware of the purist fans sentiments.

Contact Commissioner Allan H. “Bud” Selig via telephone at 212-931-7800, fax at 212-949-5654 or his address at 245 Park Avenue, 31st Floor, New York, NY 10167.

Let’s try and save baseball before it implodes and permanently strikes out with the fans.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN.

1 comment:

  1. I agree!! Baseball started on a downhill when the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to the west coast... that was just plain wrong! I'm never a big fan of change, but this isn't even good change, its an erosion of baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet... look whats already happened to hot dogs and Chevrolet... if we lose baseball, all we'll have is my delicious apple pie!