Baseball needs change, but MLB is changing the wrong parts

Right before the World Series between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Dodgers got started this evening from Arlington, Texas, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred met with the media and talked about possibly making permanent some of the changes he made for the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Specifically, he mentioned the expanded postseason field and playing extra innings with a runner starting on second base.

“I like the idea of, and I’m choosing my words carefully here, an expanded playoff format,” Manfred said. “I don’t think we would do 16 like we did this year. I think we do have to be cognizant of making sure that we preserve the importance of our regular season. But I think something beyond the 10 that we were at would be a good change.”

With the added runner rule, the longest of 68 games of 10 innings or longer were a pair of 13-inning contests, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

“I think the players like it,” Manfred said. “I think it’s really good from a safety and health perspective that keeps us from putting players in situations where they’re out there too long or in positions they’re not used to playing.”

I can’t imagine that changes like these would be tough to get approved by the Players Association because players like collecting postseason checks and also like not playing baseball until one o’clock in the morning. As far as what’s best for the game, though, I’m not so sure.

The runner-on-second rule did its job by cutting down on marathon games, but it’s another move that distracts from baseball’s biggest problem: getting through nine innings in fewer than three hours. Once you get into the extra innings, there’s tension hanging on every pitch and anyone with an interest in the game in engaged. It’s far more concerning when the first two innings take an hour to play and even hard-core fans are dreading the thought of sitting through the rest of the game.

Baseball has to find a way to keep batters in the box and pitchers on the rubber in between pitches, and especially when the bases are empty and there is no runner to worry about. I don’t really care if that takes a pitch clock or umpires using strikes and balls to penalize delay of game infractions. Something has to be done because asking fans to commit more than three hours per day, six days per week to their teams is ridiculous.

Plus, if the pitchers have to throw more pitches in a shorter period of time, it could lead to fewer 100 mph pitches, who would mean more contact and more action. Boom. Two birds with one stone.

As for the postseason, there’s no reason to fix what’s not broken, except for money, and money is exactly why Manfred wants to expand the postseason. There’s nothing wrong with that except that baseball would risk ruining September. Instead of exciting pennant races between good teams, we could get broken, mediocre teams tripping over themselves for a chance to luck into a fluke upset over the best team in baseball during a short series.

That’s basically what the NBA is in late March and early April. The bad teams are desperately trying to make up for months of ineptitude and the good teams are tanking in the hope of improving their first round match-up. It’s no wonder that time of year is dominated by college hoops and the start of baseball. Yes, September is always going to be known for football season, but sports fans wills still tune into the baseball races on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday nights if the stakes are high enough.

But sure, go ahead and mess up a whole month so you can have baseball March Madness for two days. I didn’t see anyone filling out a bracket, although it’s not like anyone will ever work in an office building again.

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