Baltimore Orioles: Don’t go to extremes
MLB and the Baltimore Orioles need to avoid going to extremes.
The Baltimore Orioles’ Cal Ripken Jr. was my hero when I was a kid. So you can understand how it’s tough for me to write an article criticizing anything with which he’s involved. However as a writer sometimes I find myself in that position – today is one of those moments.
Ripken of course is now a Senior Advisor to Commissioner Rob Manfred (on youth programs and you outreach), and I was very interested to see this article come down the pike yesterday in USA Today. In effect, the school of thought is to tweak the rules just a bit so as to get kids playing baseball again so that they’ll remain baseball fans as adults.
For starters, I understand the mentality at play, and I support it to an extent. Manfred is probably right when he says that most baseball fans played little league as a kid. So getting communities involved in the sport at a grass roots level is a great idea. I especially liked the part about Play Ball Weekend in May. Honestly, with as connected as the Orioles are in the community, I think that Baltimore will be a league leader in terms of that idea playing well.
But that’s where my view starts to diverge from Manfred’s, and (gulp!) Ripken’s.
They’re considering a series of rule changes to “spruce up” the game for kids. One of those ideas is to start every inning with a runner on first base. They have also considered starting each inning with a different count, and as opposed to three outs in an inning limiting it to five hitters. These are the three main ones in the article – there could always be more, I suppose.
Tweaking the rules is one thing – the article mentions the rules on catchers blocking the plate, and sliding into second base. Those are “tweaks,” But proposing something along the lines of what I mentioned above is just…crazy. First off, ever notice how the game’s based on the number three? Three strikes and you’re out, three outs in an inning, nine (a multiple of three) innings…? (The exception of course is ball four.) Five hitters in an inning would throw that out the window.
Starting an inning with a runner automatically on first base sounds equally as nuts to me. And I suppose I say that as a fan of pitching. If a pitcher is working his behind off, why should he autoatically be punished with having to hold a base runner without even stepping on the field?
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Admittedly, I speak as a guy who’s loved baseball his entire life. The aim here is to keep kids in cities playing the game so that the sport’s future is secure. And I certainly support that. Heck, I might even offer a few concessions on some minor rule changes at that level (and only that level) so that kids are energized to play the game. But there’s a big difference between a minor rule change and starting an inning with a runner on first base.
And here’s another point; baseball wants kids to be involved, follow the game, and if they’re good enough play the game at a professional level one day. I certainly support those initiatives, and I do agree that over the years many of the best athletes have been lost to other sports. (Many of them, but not all of them.) But baseball has an advantage built into “the system” over the rest of the sports: it’s a monopoly.
No folks, not a business monopoly like the ones that Teddy Roosevelt disliked so much. But what competition does baseball have? The meat of the season takes place while kids are out of school, and the fact is that there are no other sports with which it needs to compete. You’re either watching baseball…or nothing, come summertime.
Granted, the beginning of the season takes place up against the NBA and NHL playoffs. However there’s no sport who’s return is celebrated as much as baseball. “Opening day” is almost a month-long celebration that sets the tone for the summer. And yes, the end of the season and the playoffs go up against the NFL. However those games and their storylines are so exciting, I suspect that most people and lots of kids can’t help but pay attention in some manner.
I’m not suggesting that keeping kids involved at a grass roots level isn’t a good idea and that it isn’t necessary. However I just don’t think that radical changes to the sport that we all know and love is the way to do it. The way to do it is community involvement from the big league level down – sending players into schools, clinics, etc. Heck, maybe even doing some of those things during the winter when it might be less fashionable.
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And the good news is that the Orioles do all of this already. Regardless of that, neither myself nor the majority of fans would be happy if these changes were implemented at the professional level. It’s baseball, and it has stringent rules and old traditions. Let’s not make it into a circus.