Major League Baseball Needs to Get a Grip

It’s not often that I write a hit piece. In fact, it’s something I rarely ever do, and I try not to let my emotions get to me when I write in the first place. Normally, I just don’t see the value in it; I’m no superstar athlete, and so simply put, not that many people are going to care what I say, when I say something about sports. And that’s fine by me. So with all that being said, I hope you’ll excuse me when I say that I’ve got some things I want to get off my chest. Major League Baseball, I guess you could consider this an open letter, if you want. You all need to get ahold of yourselves and start paying attention to your game, and maybe then you’ll see why, frankly, the demographics that matter don’t care about it very much these days. Let’s get started.

The Powers That Be, And The Problems They Cause

Your game doesn’t have to be declining this way, Major League Baseball. But that being said, there’s a reason that it is declining this way. To be completely fair to you, it’s not totally your fault, either. It seems to be both the fault of baseball itself, as well as a select group of baseball fans. These two groups combined, we will call “The Powers That Be” for the purposes of this article. The Powers That Be are becoming a massive problem, and a serious road block to the growth of the game.

The Powers That Be have seen fit to try their best to suffocate any and all fun that can be had with baseball. That is to say, baseball itself is not inherently a fun experience. A lot of the experience that comes with playing baseball is (save for pitchers) standing around in your place on the field, and waiting for the ball to come your way in one form or another. On the other side of the pitcher’s mound, the experience is, of course, to try to hit the ball, but beyond that, it still involves a lot of sitting around and waiting to come up to bat. If that doesn’t sound very fun to play, then imagine how boring it could be to watch.

Even so, that’s the hand we’ve been dealt. I know that I can’t change the game of baseball as a whole, so I won’t try. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to make the baseball experience a bit more exciting. I’ve seen plenty of people advocate for some sort of pitch clock, and even if it might be difficult to implement at first, I think that’s a great idea! If we’re trying to expedite the game of baseball, we’ve at least begun to make strides in that regard. Much like the pitch clock idea, the “extra innings baserunner” was a fantastic addition to the game. It might have been hard for managers to understand and strategize around at first, but with quite a few games under its belt now, the new rule has drawn rave reviews from fans and players alike. Major League Baseball recognized that fans don’t want to be sitting through a twenty-inning baseball game, and for that, I commend their efforts to speed it up so far.

Nevertheless, the speed of the game is hardly where my biggest complaints lie.

“Let The Kids Play,” Right?

Recently, there’s been an outcry online over the way that baseball is played, both in amateur and professional settings. That is to say, there are those fans who believe that the ever-coveted “integrity of the game” has been compromised.

Now, I would understand if these fans claimed that the integrity of the game had been insulted in the wake of the Houston Astros cheating scandal. Frankly, I would agree with that. The Astros pulled the wool over the eyes of the entire baseball world, and now that most of the official punishments have blown over, none of them seem nearly severe enough for the Houston’s various offenses. But that level of integrity-shattering unsportsmanlike conduct is on a different plane of existence from…a bat flip.

It would seem that the spark that lit the integrity-compromising fuse, in the minds of those who believe the integrity of the game has been compromised recently, was a Twitter video of a bat flip following a home run in some collegiate baseball game. While the video itself seems to have left the public consciousness by now, its impact remains. As social media often does, those who viewed the video took one of two sides: this is awesome, or this is ridiculous. Though I originally thought the bat flip and the batter mean-mugging the camera might have been a bit funny-looking, I still love stuff like that. Once I found out that this home run capped off a double-digit run comeback, I was completely sold. The batter deserved a celebration like that, and he took advantage of the opportunity.

This celebration-related outrage, however, leads me to my final point. A disease that has infected baseball and its culture and one which, if not treated correctly or removed wholesale, could rot the sport from the inside out.

If It’s A Rule, Write It

The concept of the unwritten rule might actually kill baseball.

As I wrote earlier, The Powers That Be have seen fit to suffocate the fun out of baseball by putting an invisible set of restrictions on the game and how it “should” be played. Most recently, Chicago White Sox catcher Yermín Mercedes has come under fire from that select group of baseball fans, including his own manager, Tony La Russa, for, essentially, doing his job correctly.

The story goes that, while already up 15-4 on a struggling Minnesota Twins team, Mercedes hammered a home run on a 3-0 pitching count to put the White Sox up 16-4 in the late stages of the game. Almost immediately, the criticism flooded in on Mercedes, and the outrage culminated with Twins reliever Tyler Duffey nearly hitting him with a pitch in their game the next day.

Last year, San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatís Jr. was ostracized by this sect of the baseball world for many of the same reasons. The talented Tatís’s flipped that bat quite a few times last year, to the tune 17 home runs in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. But his biggest “mistake” was hitting a “disrespectful” grand slam during a blowout win against the Texas Rangers. With the Padres up 10-3, Tatís launched a ball over the wall for further insurance runs, and came under public scrutiny for doing what he’s supposed to.

How is this not the sensible thing to do in this situation?

Correct me if I’m wrong. The rules of baseball might have changed while I wasn’t looking. But isn’t one of the draws of baseball that there’s no clock? And therefore, a massive comeback can happen at any time?

In 2001, the Seattle Mariners found themselves up 14-2 on Cleveland after a scoreless sixth inning at Jacobs Field. The Mariners’ pitching staff then proceeded to collapse, allowing Cleveland to come screaming back in the late innings. The final score would show that the Mariners were defeated 15-14 after eleven innings. Had Seattle won that game, they would have broken the all-time win record that season, instead of just tying it. So as a quick experiment, let’s copy and paste that thirteen-run comeback onto the games in which Mercedes and Tatís so deeply “dishonored” the game of baseball.

In the Mercedes game, that comeback still could have happened. In the Tatís game, exactly the same fate would have been suffered by the Padres as well. Point being, insurance runs are never enough, at least not hypothetically. Sure, you can think the game is over. You can think you’ve got it in the bag.

So did the Seattle Mariners, before Cleveland pounced that day in 2001.

It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way

Like I said before, it doesn’t have to be this way. Quite frankly, I don’t want the game of baseball to keep declining like this. There are so many exciting young stars, just waiting to break out. Angels phenom Shohei Ohtani is having an incredible season both on the pitcher’s mound and at the plate. Tatís, along with Atlanta’s Ronald Acuña Jr., are just dying to become the hot young face of the game of baseball. But if we as sports fans keep gatekeeping the game of baseball like this, it will die out before we can truly appreciate these great players and maybe even put them in the Hall of Fame.

We have to be better than this as a community of sports fans. We have to let these players breathe, express themselves, and enjoy these moments that they’ve worked so hard to achieve. Instead of ostracizing these young players who are trying to inject liveliness and fun into a game that is a little bit boring, even at its best, we should be appreciating it. We should be the ones to “act like we’ve been there before.” Not the star athlete who just realized a part of their lifelong dream.

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