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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: November 28, 2020 12:27 pm PDT
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Rob Manfred Dumbed Down

Seems that more Ivy Leaguers make their way into MLB while those who have given their life to the game and know the game inside out are fired, the dumber baseball gets.

No surprise that Commissioner Rob Manfred was ballyhooing the changes he made to the game this year at the neutral site World Series between the Rays and Dodgers.

You wouldn’t expect Manfred to say any of his moves are bad, would you? They are all great.

Here’s a list of some of those changes that have taken place under his watch.

Turning the baseball into an F-15.

Eliminating true extra innings baseball during the regular season.

Making doubleheaders into seven-inning scrimmages you only would see in the past before the exhibition schedule started in spring training. Nine, meanwhile, is the perfect baseball number: nine hitters, nine innings, BallNine.

But seven innings now gets you a victory and those wins count as much as nine-inning victories.

Taking away hard slides that were once a staple of the game.

Taking away managerial decision-making with the three-batter rule.

Making the DH mandatory in what used to be two different and distinct leagues, the American League and the National League.

Excessive and relentless replay.

Excessive times of game.

Watering down importance of the regular season, which makes the baseball season so unique, and this year was pure overkill with 16 teams making the postseason, making it more like a World Baseball Classic than an event featuring the World Series.

Teams should be forced to put in the work and the money to get better, don’t just hand them a playoff pass. And now that he has the postseason overkill in place,

Manfred will trim it back a couple of teams to make it look like the regular season still means something and ram down something like a 14-team postseason when baseball returns to a 162-game schedule.

Everybody into the playoff pool.

Doing nothing as so many scouts are terminated from organizations.

Severely limiting the number of draft rounds.

Standing by as teams slash staffs, the Cubs the latest to send employees packing.

Destroying the foundation of minor league baseball and truly taking the game away from so many minor league communities. Minor league baseball is the fabric of those communities but they will be hammered under the Manfred Plan. Soon everyone will have to answer to Baseball’s Big Brother.

“I call all this the Amazon-ation of baseball”

Rob Manfred, field side watching Manfred League Baseball

For lack of a better term, I call all this the Amazon-ation of baseball. Adios, mom and pop baseball businesses.

Welcome to One Baseball World.

All done in the name of progress, removing so much character from the game – so much strategy from the game, so much of the game’s history.

This is the dumbing down of baseball and it is at its peak in the Manfred Era.

This is not nearly the same game it once was so you might as well give this entire era an asterisk.

I get it. He’s the commissioner, he does the dirty work for the owners as long as he gets the Players Association to go along.

But all this is much too much and I predict will have terrible repercussions on the game going forward and you already see that happening.

What makes baseball unique is being taken away bit by bit.

Let me put it to you in a way everyone can understand. Back in the day, when we were allowed to go to rock concerts, you wouldn’t want to see six rather mediocre warmup bands before Bruce Springsteen.

Then, when Springsteen finally got around to playing Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), you wouldn’t want him to start with this verse:

“Now, I know your mama, she don’t like me ’cause I play in a rock and roll band
And I know your daddy, he don’t dig me, but he never did understand’’

There is a buildup to get to that point of the song and the concert. Springsteen earned your devotion to get there.

Not now in baseball – with a Casper -ilke runner popping up on second base out of nowhere. Not with 16 teams in the postseason.

Manfred took a victory lap Tuesday, telling the Associated Press: “People were wildly unenthusiastic about the changes. And then when they saw them in action, they were much more positive.’’

In Manfred’s World, they were much more positive.

Not mine. And not from longtime fans of the game I’ve talked to and those in the game, pointing to seven-inning games and the runner on second to start an extra-inning rule.

Both of those rules were implemented because players no longer know how to create runs because the teaching of those unique skills have gone by the wayside.

The Braves are not in the World Series because they did not know how to run the bases.

Game 2 of the World Series

Teams can’t get ‘em on, get ‘em over and get ‘em in anymore. It’s a big swing strikeout or home run world and players aren’t changing. Now the players may like the new rules, not relief pitchers of course, because players get paid the same amount of money and get home earlier with these shorter games and fake runners.

Manfred went on to say: “I think the players like it. 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 in positions they are not used to playing.’’

That comment actually turned my stomach.

Of course players like it. They can do less work and get the same paycheck and then have more time to check their Instagram accounts.

Essentially, though, here is the problem.

The seven-inning games and the runner on second base rule cheapen the game and the win. The win really is not earned like in the past. It’s a gimmick win in a gimmick world that baseball has created because they can’t get the job done like past generations of players found a way to get the job done. Those players were taught how to get the job done.

And the fact neither rule is used in this postseason speaks to how bad those rules are for the game? Baseball games are nine innings long or go into extra innings. Period.

Magic runners don’t appear on second base in the postseason. Period.

It’s baseball. Not Gimmick Ball.

A complete game is nine innings. Not seven innings. A runner earns his way on via a hit, a walk, a hit by pitch or if the opposing team makes an error or if the third strike gets away and the throw to first base is not in time – if the runner actually shows the energy to run to first place. That’s also something that has been lost – but so what – now we can make up a magic baserunner and have him score.

Now we can shorten the game by two innings and call it a day.

That’s Manfred Ball. That’s progress? You can have it.

Minor League Baseball, Fields of broken dreams

Here is another thought. With the shutting down of minor leagues, the game is being taken away from the next generation of fans. Combine that with the late-night outcomes the game is also being taken away from the next generation.

In the end that will limit your future audience. Is that smart? How is that good for the game in the long run?

Anybody notice that even with all the extra dollars created by the extra playoffs, jobs are not being saved anyway?

You get the feeling that Manfred doesn’t enjoy baseball as it has been played in the past. The past doesn’t mean much to him. All that matters is scooping up as much money as possible now. The little guy is forgotten.

Having said all that, let me point out I Like Bat Flips. I like emotion in the game. I like teams playing hard to beat the other team. I like the fact that other players call out the Astros for being cheaters. The Astros got what they deserved although Manfred nearly got those players into the World Series by cheapening the regular season and letting 16 teams into his tournament.

Here is a simple rule for baseball to follow in the future: Less gimmicks, more action. Then fans of all ages might have the attention span to stay with the game.

MOOKIE WORLD: Speaking of action, Mookie Betts does it all. We knew that. We watched him in Boston. We talked to him when the Red Sox played the Yankees, including the night in Boston he slammed three home runs against James Paxton, another in a long line of pitchers who were going to take the Yankees to the top of the mountain.

I remember Mookie saying that night about all his talents: “Try to turn your brain off and just play. That’s when everybody is at their best.’’

Betts was at his best in Game 1 Tuesday of the World Series, leading the Dodgers to an 8-3 win over the Rays. He homered to the opposite field, but his biggest plays were made with this legs, when he scored the third run of the game, and I maintain the biggest run because it was so innocent.

Mookie walked, stole second and third and scored on a headfirst dive on Max Muncy’s ground ball to first with a drawn-in infield, a creative run, a work of art.

Those kind of runs crush an opponent because Tyler Glasnow could not hold him on base or be quick to the plate.

Stop Mookie and you stop the Dodgers. I picked the Rays in seven games in BallNine’s pre-World Series Roundtable. That will happen if the Rays can have three more games like their impressive 6-4 victory in Game 2 when Betts was held hitless.

Mookie starts the Dodgers’ engine, which begs the question, and we talked about dumb earlier, but how dumb are the Red Sox to let this type of complete talent get away. The Red Sox print money, yet they couldn’t find a way to keep Betts in Boston. This is what happens when a team’s ownership thinks it knows more about the game than talent evaluators and fans.

Now I can understand to a degree, what writers were thinking 100 years ago when the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. I am not saying Betts is Ruth, I am saying the things he does for a team in this era are similar to what Ruth did in that Ruth produced runs in a way no other major league player could produce runs.

Betts does the same thing with his legs. He produces runs in a way most major leaguers can’t. He also saves runs with his defense, a four-time Gold Glove winner, and he can hit for power too as he has proven time and again. This is the type of move that will haunt a franchise forever.

The Red Sox owner got rid of Babe Ruth. Now these owners including John Henry, a big soccer fan, got rid of Mookie Betts.

In 1920 there was the Curse of the Bambino when Babe Ruth was sold to the Yankees for $125,000.

In 1986 World Series there was Mookie Wilson’s “A little roller up along first. Behind the bag. It gets through Buckner!’’

In 2020 there is the Curse of Mookie.

Who would ever think the Red Sox, after selling Ruth the right-fielder, would repeat the mistake 100 years later with another right-fielder.

As one longtime scout told BallNine on Wednesday about Mookie being a Dodger: “He’s the face of that franchise. And for the Red Sox, it’s not like they didn’t know what they had, they had an MVP, and a young guy. They just didn’t want to spend the money. That’s the bottom line.’’

Betts won the MVP in 2018 as the Red Sox won the World Series. Two years later Betts is vying for another World Championship with the Dodgers.

As Dodgers manager Dave Roberts put it so well about Betts: “He creates stress.’’

The Red Sox have no one to blame for their idiocy than their owners who wanted financial flexibility. Who needs a five-tool player when you have financial flexibility and can save $48 million of David Price’s salary dumping him in the deal.

There are many ways to measure a player’s success, but I like to keep it simple. To me, runs scored is a huge number.

Over the last three seasons Betts has played 341 games and has scored 311 times. In this postseason he has played 14 games and has scored 12 runs.

The man is scoring essentially a run a game in the postseason. Basically, before the game starts if Mookie Betts is in your lineup this October, you already have a 1-0 lead. That’s an incredible difference maker and with Betts playing superior defense where he is saving runs in right field, you have even more of an advantage.

Betts is a run machine, creating runs with his legs, his power and stopping runs with his defensive skills. The moment he slid across home headfirst in Game 1 was the moment the Rays had to be saying to themselves, we’ve got no chance if this guy gets on base.

The $365 million addition for the Dodgers makes them complete and is signed thru 2032. The Dodgers last won a World Series in 1988, that was the year of the October surprise home run from a gimpy Kirk Gibson, and I was there to watch Gibson limp around the bases. Here we are 32 years later and at 5-9, 170, Mookie has the power to hit home runs but also has the legs to score. He creates havoc. He creates runs and has an incredible feel for when to be creative. How does that happen?

“I just kind of watch the game,’’ Mookie said after the Game 1 win.

Imagine that. Watch the game and react.

Former Red Sox manager Alex Cora knows what to watch for and when Betts is at his best, “It’s always cool when he smiles on the field,’’ Cora once told me.

Betts’ smile is everything that is great about the game. Having fun, creating runs in different ways, being the best teammate he can be, a $365 million smile.

Hey, but at least the Red Sox have financial flexibility. With moves like that, are they even trying to win? Not having the patience or the financial will to stick with homegrown super talent is the greatest of baseball sins.

44+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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