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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: May 18, 2021 11:14 am PDT
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Balls.

Whose got ‘em. Who doesn’t.

Baseballs. Specifically. MLB evidently has a new ball policy. The league that juiced up the baseballs for more home runs and as a result, more strikeouts, now is taking it down a notch – supposedly – after Sports Illustrated inquired about the baseballs and the Athletic obtained an internal memo about the construction of the baseball.

The ball may have a bit less bounce, but we’ll have to see about all that because it may be a tiny bit lighter and the two changes could cancel each other out.

Bottom line: This is just another change to the game that doesn’t know when to leave well enough alone.

It’s always about change. Never about baseball, and that’s the problem.

Instead of worrying about playing regular old baseball, and improving on the skills of the players in the game, fans are being hit with even more baseball skullduggery.

Here is my Baseball or Bust memo to everybody over at MLB.

Fans like real baseball. Try playing that. Enough with the gimmicks and changing the ball for desired results which always seems to lead to more offense, less baseball, because teams no longer know how to create runs.

Enough with the seven-inning doubleheaders. Enough with the runner on second base in extra innings. We have to put up with that again.

You are so bad at your game now you can’t even manufacture a run to break a tie in the extra innings, you know, baseball stuff. So bad that you have to change the rules again and mask it all under a Covid decree.

Sure, some fans liked the new man on second base rule that popped up in 2020 when everything changed, a 60-game schedule became a “full season.’’ Some say they liked the changes last year because it made the game more exciting with teams trying to get that run home from second — even bunting him over — or as I call it the head-start rule.

Well, some people like fast food for dinner, too. I prefer steak. Why don’t you try to get baserunners on base and get them home all game? Do the little things to get that done.

I prefer watching a batter battle and put up a good at-bat and get a base hit, or work a walk, or put the ball in play and force an error and then move to second base via a bunt, stolen base or a batter giving himself up – or even a hit and run or run and hit, that’s action, that’s baseball. And if a home run happens, cool.

I prefer that the pitcher not be penalized with a runner on second just because it’s getting late. This isn’t some weekend youth tournament game. It’s the major leagues. Play the game to its conclusion.

Just telling some player who just made the last out the previous inning, “Okay, here is your reward for failure, you go to second base to start the next inning,’’ is ridiculous. Everyone gets rewarded. Everyone gets a cupcake even though it is not your birthday.

It used to be that you didn’t have to wait until extra innings to see a baseball play.

You saw a bunch of them all day long at the ballpark. That’s why you loved baseball. But all that is out the window now as baseball cheapens the game, cheapens the fans’ experience but certainly not the cost of that fan experience. That keeps rising and baseball is in for a dramatic shock as fans continue to abandon the game.

balls

2021 will see MLB's balls fiddled with - again. (Photo: Brad Mills / USA TODAY Sports / Reuters)

If something doesn’t work like it used to work for say, 100 years, Rob Manfred’s solution is simple. Change the rules. Lower the bar. Keep lowering the baseball bar.

A baseball friend of mine pointed out that the solution is right in front of baseball with the baseballs. They don’t need to fiddle with the baseball again and this time (supposedly) take a little juice out of the ball. No, just use the same type of baseballs they used everywhere in the minor leagues in 2019 except at AAA where they used the same juiced ball as the major leagues.

Those other Rawlings baseballs were fine.

It couldn’t be any simpler than that, but baseball doesn’t think simple. It thinks about two things. How much more money the owners can make — as a result the players obsess about how much more money they can make, and secondly, how they can make the game worse while saying they are making it better.

“Hey, let’s use these as bargaining chips in negotiations, and if the game suffers, so be it.’’

That’s it. Nothing else. The game is now a bargaining chip.

Here is the key, you have to like baseball to want to make baseball better. It’s that simple. I will take that one step further. You have to love baseball to want to make this game that is called Major League Baseball, better.

The love is not there. Dollar signs are all that matters.

And here is what they will tell you about the beauty of the shorter doubleheaders, the fake runner on second base, and why the DH must be used in both leagues. They will tell you this is all being done to reduce the grind of the 162-game season in these Covid times.

How about this? Just reduce the schedule a bit and play baseball.

Mafred laughing his ass off

Rob Manfred is happy to be succeeding at one thing - having the owners laughing all the way to the bank. (Photo: Photo: Elsa/Getty Images)

No fake baseball. How about teaching baseball skills again? How about not firing scouts that know the game and know people, and how about not getting rid of so many qualified instructors and player development people who understand the nuances of the game – and know how to teach the game properly – only to be replaced by the data driven bots who not only don’t know the nuances of the game but don’t care about them.

How about increasing the size of the minor leagues, growing the game in smaller cities, not reducing the minor leagues, and how about increasing the instruction – not decreasing it?

That’s not happening, so fake rules and situations are created to supposedly reduce the risk of injury. When pitchers used to run more, ride the bike, shag fly balls every day in BP, work on commanding the strike zone, you know – pitching – all that worked hand in hand. They were not such fragile human beings that they would break down because they bunted a ball and ran hard to first base. Are they such fragile athletes they can’t go 90 feet without a breakdown? And when they do get hurt, look at the reason why and work on making that pitcher a ballplayer who should be able to go 90 feet.

The forever pre-set pitch limits, the over the top weight lifting, the max effort on every pitch, basically from the time they show up at spring training, is what’s breaking down these pitchers. Not a little baserunning, not a little handling of the bat. Not a little of trying to make them ballplayers.

As a result of not teaching any of this in the minor leagues anymore to pitchers, your pitcher of today comes to the majors unable to perform certain skills and a result, everyone cries for the DH because it’s desperately needed in a game that has done nothing but try to increase the offense for years.

The DH is what it is. It is not a hill worth dying on so do what you want with it, but it is just another symptom of what’s wrong with the game today.

The Manfred Ball is a joke, a complete joke or as Justin Verlander so aptly put it in 2019 at the All-Star Game, telling ESPN, “a fucking joke.’’

“MLB has a way of creating unintended consequences.”

Opposite field home runs are everywhere.

And now baseball will fiddle with the baseball again.

Baseball, by the way, did not take the MLB ball and use it throughout the entire minor leagues because they said that would have been too costly. So in 2019, they let every league below AAA use the other ball, the ball that was more true to the game. That makes a lot of sense.

Of course, everything comes back to money in baseball and trying to juice the game and there have unintended consequences.

I now spend – well I don’t, because I don’t care what people think about my Hall of Fame vote – but so many writers spend time defending their votes on why they did or didn’t vote for steroid guys for the Hall of Fame. Meanwhile, if baseball did not create the problem in search of fast food offense, in other words, kept the playing field even, we would not have to be dealing with the Steroid of Fame issue now and to the end of baseball time.

MLB has a way of creating unintended consequences.

They took a great game and made it mediocre. Even less than mediocre.

Dejected Braves fan

Once again, it's the fans who will get the short end of the stick this season. (Photo Credit: CURTIS COMPTON / Atlanta Journal-Consitution)

Instead of just moving on this year and saying, “You know what, we are going back to baseball as we knew it. No 7-inning doubleheaders, no fake runners on second base, no DH in the National League, let’s try to get back to normal with a fair baseball,’’ that would have been the thing to do. That would have got the fans talking.

“Do you think baseball will really play baseball again?’’

The answer of course, is a resounding “No.’’

Baseball will continue to look for gimmicks to survive all this while charging you more money to attend the game and park your car when you can attend a game and park again. I just want to point out that I went to a Savanah Bananas game in early September with 2000 other fans and it was a great and safe experience, something baseball has yet to figure out how to do at each ballpark and in spring training, bring back the fans.

Instead, we continue to get New Rules that change the game.

By the way, when AAA switched to the livelier ball, the offensive numbers went through the roof. Did all those minor leagues suddenly become better hitters with better numbers, especially power numbers? No, it was the ball. Same in the major leagues. Hitters are rewarded for hitting fly balls instead of line drives. They miss more often and every year strikeout numbers continue to break records. There’s less action, less bat control, less manufactured runs, less conventional rallies. Less baseball. More gimmicks and gurus.

The game is much more boring.

Do you want to go watch a baseball game with a quick pace, good defensive plays, smart baserunning, action all over the place or do you want to go watch a game of 3 Flies Up?

At least that’s what I called it growing up in wonderful Kenilworth, NJ.

If we couldn’t round up enough players to play real baseball at Harding School Fields or 16th Street Field, if we could only get four to six guys, we would divide up into two teams. The fielders would go out in the field, the hitters take turns flipping the ball in the air with one hand, then grabbing the bat with two hands and trying to hit a home run over the head of the fielders deep in the outfield.

That was fun for a few minutes, but all of us wanted to play a real game of baseball, not 3 Flies Up.

JD Martinez striking out

Strikeouts have been on the rise and are at record highs. How is this new ball going to remedy that?

You may have called it something different where you grew up, but the 3 Flies Up mentality is the mentality that runs baseball now.

“Hey, we don’t have enough really good baseball players, so let’s make them all home run hitters and see how that works out. And let’s juice the ball!’’

To which a paid underling replies: “Great idea, chief. And may I add: If we need to get the game to end, let’s put a fake runner on second base in extra innings because all these fly ball guys will not be able to manufacture a run to win the game in extra innings… Also, the guys that can’t hit, you know, the pitchers, let’s not even let them hit, they’re pitchers anyway, that’s enough. They’re pretty uncoordinated, they might get hurt… Also, let’s make doubleheaders only seven innings – nobody could possibly sit through two whole games in one day – and let’s put more teams in the playoffs! This way even if a team stinks and is not really spending money to try to get better, they can tell their fans, ‘Hey, we were a playoff team last year.’ That way they can control player costs, we all get more TV money and who really cares if the game continues to deteriorate?’’

That’s sarcasm, in case you missed it, but that is basically what is going on with baseball.

And now because they are going to less lively ball (supposedly) you are supposed to flock back to the game of baseball because it might be a little more baseball with the less lively ball, a ball that they made much more lively, a Super Ball.

“Everything about that ball was different, it was slicker and the seams were not the same,’’ one former pitcher told me. Indeed, it was the home run ball that baseball wanted in play.

Now all of sudden they have learned the error of their ways and will go back to a ball that is not as juiced as the Manfred Ball. We’ll see.

A quick peek at the statistics for 2020 showed 19 teams had more strikeouts than base hits. That’s a problem. And that was with a juiced ball. The Pirates hit .220 in the shortened season and have gotten worse. The Pirates on-base percentage was .284. That is beyond terrible.

Eighteen teams had a batting average under .250. The Reds, a playoff team by the way, produced the lowest batting average at .212 and they were the only team in baseball with less than 400 hits last year.

Again, they were a playoff team. How long are we expected to buy the BS?

In baseball’s last full season, 2019, there were 15,586 strikeouts and 6,092 walks. So that’s 21,678 plate appearances the ball was not put in play. Zero on-field action. That’s 21,678 times you could have been staring at your phone and you did not miss the ball being put in play for a triple, a double, a single, a great defensive play or even a bouncer back to the pitcher who somehow had to try to get the ball over to first base without winding up on the IL because, you know, pitchers get hurt doing baseball things.

All because of MLB’s do or die love affair with the home run and cheap gimmicks.

If only baseball teams played baseball.

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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