Once many years ago there was a piece in the New York Times which said that baseball should allow the batter the option of running to either third base or first base after he hit the ball. My immediate reaction was – That’s pretty stupid. If you think about it for just a minute, you’d see all the flaws with that plan. Many people feel that exact same way with the proposal to get the 2020 season underway by having all teams play in Arizona.
The pandemic that we’re experiencing is forcing MLB to look at extraordinary circumstances in order to have something resembling a season. My opinion is that they should absolutely be having these feasibility discussions. Just because you investigate an idea, doesn’t mean you have to actually carry out and do it. The idea that we should just throw our collective hands in the air and proclaim that it can’t be done is one that doesn’t sit well with me.
People far smarter than me would have to sign off on the plan. And it would without a doubt necessitate sacrifices by many individuals, not the least of which would be the players. However, it’s not a major worry of mine that people making at least $550K might have to sacrifice for a few months. Of course, there are plenty of support personnel who would have their lives disrupted, too, in order for this plan to work. And they aren’t in the same tax bracket.
But my concern today is not chiefly about the nitty-gritty details to make the plan feasible. Instead, it’s a big-picture approach. With it being next to impossible to have a 162-game season, what are the things that would have to – or even make sense to do, even if it’s not a requirement – change? In the biggest disruption to the season in my lifetime, the 1981 strike, baseball handled things by having a split season, crowning first-half and second-half winners in each division.
This was not a new concept for professional baseball in this country as it was regularly done in the minor leagues. But it was certainly something different for MLB. While fans of the Reds and Cardinals might feel otherwise, this temporary solution worked. It gave fans a reason to get even more excited about baseball’s return. Say your team was 17-34 when the stoppage hit. When the season returned, it was a clean slate.
Your team could pick up Mike Marshall because you had a chance to win the second half of the season. A 6-2 start to the second half allowed for some dreaming. It had been quite a few years since the Mets were in playoff contention in late August.
Right now, we have the ability to come up with other temporary, perhaps even temp-to-hire, solutions to handle a shortened season in a social distancing world. There have been ideas that have already made it into the public domain. We’ve heard about seven-inning doubleheaders, the universal adoption of the DH and even radical realignment, to base divisions on where teams hold Spring Training.
Truth be told, none of these ideas float my boat. However, there is one that has me excited and that’s the use of an automated strike zone to remove the home plate umpire from always being in such close proximity to the batter and catcher. Last year we saw the computerized strike zone used in professional ball, as it was employed during the second half of the year in the Atlantic League.
It wasn’t perfect and ideally it would have a few more years to work out bugs before it was introduced in MLB. But things are rarely ideal.
There are things that the game should be able to achieve its own equilibrium without outside interference. As much as I despised the LOOGY gambit, it shouldn’t have taken a rule change to make teams stop using pitchers constantly for one or two batters at a time. Whether individually or collectively, teams should have recognized that it was a competitive disadvantage in many cases to run your roster this way.
But a more accurate strike zone isn’t something the game could find on its own. The strike zone should be the same for all players, regardless if a stiff or a star is on the mound or in the batter’s box. And we all know that’s not the case. We may not have strikes being called regularly when they’re a foot outside, like during Tom Glavine’s heyday, but there are no shortage of pitches being missed both ways, often in crucial situations.
My strong preference is to abolish the DH. But if you told me the “cost” of a computerized strike zone was the adoption of the DH, I’d sign on the dotted line. And who knows, we may see both of those things if/when the Arizona plan for the 2020 season goes into effect.