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Mudville: May 25, 2022 6:11 am PDT
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New Rules, New Problems

Somebody over at MLB finally bought a tape measure.

Good for them. Nice to know a business that deals in billions and billions of dollars spent cash on a Pittsburgh Tape Measure, 100 feet by ½ inch that goes for $12.99 at Harbor Freight. Must have been one of the last ones purchased though, because of “supply chain issues’ they are currently out of stock until Feb. 2. That’s another story.

Here at the The Story we are concerned about 60 feet, six inches, the distance from the pitching rubber to home plate. It is The Distance and should not be changed for any reason.

The Atlantic League, which is basically Rob Manfred’s Dr. Frankenstein League, announced this week that the experimental 61-feet, six inches pitching rubber to home plate was in the words of Charles Dickens: “Old Marley was as dead as a door nail.’’

Finished. Done. Same goes for Robo Umps in the Atlantic League. Since we attacked this move when it was put into play last year, it is time to follow up and will also point to the next bizarre rule change that must be abolished, the pitcher disengaging the rubber before throwing over to first.

Of course, all this falls into the NSS category. No Sh—, Sherlock. Why in the world would you ever move the rubber back a foot?

Is the NFL suddenly going to make it an 80-yard field? It was a dumb move to start.

And now it is just another defeat for Rob Manfred in his continuing battle to break what isn’t broken in baseball.

And as one scout told a former GM about the new Bigger Bases Rule: “If the intent is to lead to more stolen bases,’’ the scout wondered, “why clubs just don’t sign players with bigger feet.’’

The Atlantic League will continue to have its Fred Flintstone 17-inch bases, anti-shift rules (instead of learning to hit the ball the other way rules – you know, baseball) and my personal favorite, putting runners at first and second to begin extra innings, and then load the bases for any extra innings after that. I call this one “Everybody gets a cupcake’’ rule.

Sure, it may not be your birthday, but it doesn’t matter, everybody gets as cupcake as baseball continues to dumb down the art of competition, similar to what is going on in the real world.

And as one scout told a former GM about the new Bigger Bases Rule: “If the intent is to lead to more stolen bases,’’ the scout wondered, “why clubs just don’t sign players with bigger feet.’’

It’s all a joke and that Manfred is using the Atlantic League as his personal baseball toady in such a manner is embarrassing. Hey, why not add a fourth runner about 20 feet from home plate, a runner who can easily walk home to score when the catcher botches a pitch because he is more interested in framing the pitch than catching or blocking the pitch?

From what I’m hearing on the inside, the 61 feet, six inches rubber to home plate rule was so disliked by the pitchers that the league would have had trouble fielding quality pitching.

I saw the Robo Umps in action this past summer in the Florida State League – which is now called the Manfred Low Southeast League or something like that – and it was atrocious. Ball-strike calls were delayed. Many pitches were missed and when I was there I took a poll of about 15 baseball people at the games – coaches, scouts, broadcasters – and they told me, including a couple former major league pitchers, that anywhere from 25 to 30 pitches were missed a game by the Robo Umps.

That is bad. I’m sure the technology will improve and it will all be fine in the end. Yeah, sure.

An umpire wired up for automatic calls in a photo taken by Kevin Kernan.

And if this bad rule makes its way to the major leagues, it will be a joke. Even the all-knowing Nerds will have to relent and say, “Since they are giving us the base, let’s steal second base.’’

Over at BallNine we are not afraid to offer help to the commissioner. One former player he should hire, a player who would not hold back on what he feels or what ramifications such moves would have on the game is Jeff Frye.

Frye is no wallflower. He will tell you what he thinks in a world were too many people dance around a subject. We reached out to our friend on Friday and this is what he had to say about the changes and this is what he thinks based on an eight-year major league career with 2,451 plate appearances and a lifetime .290 average. It was a busy week for Frye who attended the Texas High School Baseball Association convention in Grapevine, Texas and the ABCA (American Baseball Coaches Asssociation) convention in Chicago.

“The other rule that Manfred needs to get rid of right now is pitchers have to disengage the rubber before throwing to first base, that’s asinine,’’ Frye told BallNine.

“I’ve heard from people who played in the leagues where they had that rule where pitchers had to step off that it is a freaking track meet. Backup catchers are stealing bases. You can get a three-foot bigger lead without any fear of getting picked off. Everybody is just going. Let’s just make it a mockery of the game.’’

Former Mets left-hander Glendon Rusch explained it to us from a pitcher’s point of view as well.

“It was always an advantage for a lefty to be quick to the plate or have a good move so I think they should leave it the way it is,’’ said Rusch, who pitched 12 years in the majors with six different teams.

“The reason base-stealing and running has been cut down is because of the analytics. We’ve just gotten away from that. I would love to see more base stealers and I would love to see more action within the game.

“Everything has always been skewed toward the hitter and the offense,’’ Rusch said of the proposed rule changes.

Jeff Frye.

You may disagree with the human element umpire, but no one misses that many pitches during a game. Another fun fact. It was entertaining watching the catcher trying to “frame’’ pitches that were being called by a Robo Ump.

Wouldn’t you need a Robo Catcher to Robo Frame for the Robo Ump?

There are still many wacky rule changes out there that Manfred and his “baseball people’’ are trying to shove down our throats. Bring common sense back to baseball and the game will be better for it.

Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. was hired a while back in an advisory position to Manfred. Is he onboard with these Manfred-stein experiments to the game?

Then there is Raul Ibanez who has been hired as senior VP of on-field operations. Does he have a say in these changes? When he was hired it was announced that Ibanez specifically will work on issues related to rules, equipment and on-field technology. He will also contribute to MLB’s initiatives in scouting and amateur baseball. In addition, former outfielder Rajai Davis has been named senior director of on-field operations, joining Nick Hundley and Gregor Blanco in those roles.

As one longtime pitcher, who is still coaching in the game, told BallNine: “When is Manfred going to hire some former pitchers to advise him?’’

Fair question, former pitchers who might say about moving the rubber back a foot: “Hey Commish, are you crazy?’’

And let’s not forget the rules in the minors that were used last year where pitchers had to fully disengage from the rubber prior to throwing to first base under penalty of a balk; a move that eliminates the most effective style of pickoff moves by left-handed pitchers, who perfected the move, pitchers like Andy Pettitte.

Did anyone bother to ask Andy Pettitte about this doozy of a change?

Glendon Rusch.

Frye also made this excellent point.

“I thought they hired four former major leaguers, they must not be asking them: ‘If you think these rules are good ideas or not?’ Are those guys saying, ‘Yeah, let’s give it a shot?’ I would never say that. I would be like, ‘This is bleeping stupid.’’’

Yes, it is.

As Forest Gump said: “Stupid is as stupid does.’’

And I’m not even bringing up the lockout and the entire labor issue where baseball is on precipice of going over the cliff with the fans. Do they have any understanding of how totally frustrated the fans are with the billionaires fighting the millionaires? Fans have had enough across the board. When loyalty is not returned by the game to the fans it is only a matter of time before the whole thing blows up.

Instead of focusing on how to play the game in an exciting fashion, they continue to go deeper into the world of Launch Angle Madness combined with the inability of pitchers to actually pitch, instead they have become sequencing agents on the mound, not pitchers, who last only a few innings.

It’s boring, folks. Wake up, baseball. Get back to baseball, not maneuvered rules that will only make the product worse.

Manfred, hire people who will give you their honest opinion and save yourself from yourself.

“Whoever said we have to increase offenses by more stolen bases by making it more difficult for pitchers to hold runners [and thinks it] is a good idea, probably never played the game at a high level,’’ Frye surmised.

All this reminded me of 1999 and at spring training with the Mets when I wrote that Roger Cedeno was not anything close to being an everyday centerfielder for the Mets, who were once again trying to reinvent the wheel, thinking any player could play anywhere. Let him play a corner spot and find a real everyday centerfielder, I said. It’s kind of important.

The next morning Jeff Wilpon approached me in the clubhouse and said, “Kevin, I have to to tell you, there are some people in the organization who agree with you.’’

I smiled and said, “Some people? Well, Jeff, for those who disagree with me and actually think Cedeno is an everyday centerfielder, you might want to immediately reassign them to a position where they are not making any judgement calls on where players should play.’’

The Mets' Riger Cedeno slides in under the tag of Derek Jeter.

Same thing for the people making up these crazy rules. They should not be anywhere near this rules situation.

When something is obvious in baseball, it’s obvious. The 61 feet, six inches rule was a boondoggle. Same with disengaging from the rubber for pitchers on throws to first base and the Automatic Ball/Strike system is not feasible at this point.

One of my major issues with Manfred is he creates new problems instead of fixing real problems. And that is an enormous problem.

Frye is trying to get the word out on how to save the game from itself, including the over launch angle approach that is creating record new strikeout levels of incompetence and baseball boredom.

On a side note, a longtime youth coach who has strong connections to the major leagues called me and said players now trying out for his travel teams are coming in with some of the worst swings he has ever seen because they are all focused on launch angle and not hitting. Interesting.

In Grapevine, Frye said a group from the convention went to the restaurant at the hotel where they were showing a game from 1991 on the TV.

“I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen,’’ Frye said of the matchup and the intensity of that game. “There was action and you were on the edge of your seat. Some of those guys back in those days were pretty good, too. You look at the Rangers lineup and some of those guys in the lineup were Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez, Ruben Sierra, Julio Franco, who’s got a lineup like that nowadays?’’

Young Pudge Rodriguez (19) also played for that team.

When Frye played it was a different world and he then told me this story.

“There were no group hugs out in centerfield before the game,’’ he said with a laugh. “When we were playing the Yankees I used to tell Tim Raines, ‘Hey Rock, tell your boy (Paul) O’Neill to hit one in my direction because I want to rob him of a hit and see him cry all the way back to the dugout.’ Rock would start laughing. I wanted O’Neill to do the same thing to me, that’s how you compete.’’

Exactly, that’s how you compete.

You don’t make stupid new rules that are not based on baseball common sense.

45+ 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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