For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: June 22, 2024 8:45 am PDT

They were not in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania with the groundhog but Rob Manfred and Tony Clark did see their shadows this week.

As a result, there will be six more weeks of Baseball Winter.

Thanks fellas, continue to ruin the game for the fans. You both are doing a bang-up job, especially you Rob, orchestrating this lockout has baseball frozen in time and frozen the players from coming to spring training to thaw out and, you know, get people excited about the season.

Doing the dirty work for the owners is an accurate job description for Manfred.

Spring training will be delayed and as I’ve been saying all along, I fully expect the regular season to offer a delayed opening as well. The two sides remain at odds.

With all the gambling sites going on in baseball and ballparks becoming casinos, that’s a good term for what is going on in baseball – at odds.

There will come a time fans will say they have had enough and move on with their lives. If baseball pushes them too far there will be a large portion of fans who will not come back to the game and by that I mean they will not be spending big money to go to a ballpark and may reevaluate the cost of bringing the game into their homes.

That is where baseball is at this moment. It has already become a difficult game to watch. No one I know — and I know a lot of baseball people — can sit and watch a full major league game anymore, unless they are in full uniform and even then, they still sneak off for time in the clubhouse or the batting cage.

Baseball is now what I call a popcorn sport, you grab a few kernels here and there, but it is no longer a complete 1970s-era tub of buttery popcorn that you would inhale.

Who has the time or the patience to watch a full baseball game?

Paint dries before balls are put into play and there have been so many rule changes that have taken action out of the game – and just as importantly, fun out of the game – and the human element out of the game.

Here at Baseball or Bust I will gladly take a five-minute manager eruption over an umpire’s call any day over the five-minute instant replay Gotcha call.

The NFL, despite all of its problems, and there are many of them as we see again this week with the Brian Flores situation and the sham interview process for Black coaches, has only ruined their game a little bit unlike baseball which has destroyed the game from within.

On the field, the NFL’s biggest problem is the Overtime Rule. It’s not fair because your team may not get the ball. Fans know it’s not fair and that needs to be changed. And I’m sure it will be changed.

MLB cannot continue to treat their fans like throw away fans. MLB has altered the game too much already. The older fan is holding on by a thread. Younger fans will find something else to do with their time.

The football game of today though remains pretty much the same game I first came to love in the 1960s watching the New York Giants play when they actually played in New York City. Yankee Stadium was a great venue for a football game and I remember sitting in the bleachers and watching the Giants come onto the field through the dugout.

That alone was interesting and exciting.

That game was violent, and it is still violent. There also was artistry in the game, and there is still artistry in the game. The rules are the same, four downs to make a first down, cross the goal line and you have a touchdown.

Baseball has changed so many rules, but the game still has three outs. Everything else has pretty much changed. The baseball itself has dramatically changed. I watched one inning of the Field of Dreams Yankees-White Sox replay on Tuesday on MLB Network and the way that baseball was flying into the cornfield left no doubt in my mind that this showcase game was utilizing the lighter Manfred Ball that day for theatrics and TV, not the heavier Manfred Ball, one of two baseballs that astrophysicist Meredith Wills said was used by MLB in 2021.

DYERSVILLE, IA - AUGUST 12: Eloy Jimenez #74 of the Chicago White Sox bats against the New York Yankees on August 12, 2021 at Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa. (Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images)

Football still uses the entire field and offenses actually come up with creative new ways for more offense like using a wide receiver in the backfield.

Baseball has essentially cut the field in half, both on defense and offense; and hitters because of the way ownership pays them, only try to hit home runs, what I call the three FALSE outcomes: home run, walk, strikeout, not true outcomes.

Boring. Boring. Boring.

Gone are the creative ways to score runs, hit and runs, steals, taking the extra base, a bunt for a hit or a sacrifice.

And as I’ve pointed out in a previous column, football does everything in its power to protect the guy that throws their ball, the quarterback, while baseball has done everything in its power to limit the success of the starting pitcher, starting with the way they prepare pitchers in the minor leagues.

Let me back that up with some 2021 numbers from Triple-A East, a total of 20 teams.

In that 2021 minor league season, half of the Triple-A East teams did not even manage one complete game, not even one of those seven-inning complete games. The Yankees affiliate managed one complete game. Two teams, the Braves affiliate in Gwinnett, Georgia and the Marlins affiliate in Jacksonville, Florida, each had three complete games to lead the league.

That is ridiculous.

If you’re never allowed to pitch a complete game, how are you going to ever pitch a complete game in the majors? And forget about the complete game, how about going seven or eight innings?

Common sense is out the window and it shows that all of MLB has disdain for the complete game – and trying to help pitchers learn how to throw a complete game, the art of the game.

And here is the key, in this pitch-limit, inning-limit world, Tommy John surgeries continue to lay waste to pitchers. The art of pitching has given way to the max-effort every pitch style of power pitching and pitchers are still getting injured at an alarming rate.

Gwinnett Stripers pitcher Kyle Wright was one of the few AAA East pitchers to hurl a complete game in 2021. (Photo by Kevin Langley/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

This is the same as the NFL not allowing quarterbacks to run a two-minute drill in practice and then expecting that quarterback to be a success in the two-minute drill.

Only Aaron Rodgers could pull that off with his toe injury.

Not pushing pitchers to their limit is a little bit like the NFL not allowing a quarterback to throw a pass in the fourth quarter.

All of this is absolutely crazy but Nerds in every front office rule the day and the clueless, number-oriented owners. That is the way the game is played and that is the way the starting pitcher is used.

I talked to a former pitcher this week and in the early 1980s his AA team managed to throw 43 complete games – 43. I then looked up a random AAA-team in 1981, the Rochester Red Wings. They managed 31 complete games. That’s right, one AAA team essentially managed to pitch twice as many complete games as entire 20-team AAA-East this past season. In fact, I looked up the entire International League in 1981 and those teams averaged 31 complete games.

Each Triple-A East team managed all of 0.8 complete games this past season.

And they call it progress.

“It ain’t working,’’ one baseball man told BallNine. “You have more injuries than you ever had and now you have soft pitchers who can’t get through five innings. So how’s that working out for you?’’

The evidence is right in front of them but baseball continues to plow ahead with this false ‘protect the pitcher narrative’ and pitching continues to decline.

One thing is certain. Complete game records will never be broken.

Tom Seaver managed to throw 231 complete games and he is No. 100 on the all-time list. Tommy John who came back from Tommy John surgery, managed to pitch 162 complete games, good for 195th on the list. Roger Clemens owns 118 complete games and he is No. 330. Dwight Gooden threw 68 complete games and he is tied with a bunch of other pitchers for 647th on the list.

This past season three pitchers tied for the lead in complete games: German Marquez, Adam Wainwright and Zack Wheeler each had three.

In 2021, German Marquez was tied for the MLB lead in complete games with three. (Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

In no way am I saying let’s go back to the days of Cy Young, who owns the record with 749 complete games, or even Bob Gibson (255 for 73rd place) but let’s try to push it a tiny, tiny bit. You have to go all the way back to 1999 to even find a pitcher who had double-figure complete games in a season and that was lefty David Wells with 12.

You get the picture of the state of the starting pitcher in 2022.

This system is failing baseball. And it is failing from a physical standpoint and a mental standpoint.

“You don’t have many guys left that want to finish what they start,’’ the former pitcher told me. “And that was my whole thing throughout my career as a pitcher and a pitching coach. I wanted horses. I wanted guys like Jim Palmer who used to tell the bullpen, ‘Hey guys, you got the night off.’’’

Now it’s more like, “Hey guys you got the first three innings off.’’

Or even worse, “Hey guys you got the first inning off.’’

Getting 15 outs from a starter these days is cause for celebration. But how silly of me to actually talk baseball when there is a lockout in full swing. Cubs pitcher Marcus Stroman posted three tweets that were telling on the state of the game.

“Wish Adam Silver would intervene and teach Manfred how to properly run a league.’’

“Manfred and his boys delaying the season for no reason. Not shocking.’’

“Truly feel sorry for the fans of baseball.’’

At some point I truly believe many fans will cash in their MLB chips.

There are other sports to watch. There are other baseball games to watch, too, on different levels. MLB cannot continue to treat their fans like throw away fans. MLB has altered the game too much already. The older fan is holding on by a thread. Younger fans will find something else to do with their time.

And much like the Brian Flores accusations of tanking that speaks volumes, especially with the NFL that is all about gambling, if the owners are tanking games how in the world can bettors bet?

Reds fans and writers ask: Can Joe Burrow play shortstop? (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Baseball certainly has a similar tanking problem and the players have brought that to the forefront in these negotiations as well with the Mets’ Max Scherzer telling the LA Times, “This negotiation is about the integrity of the game from our eyes. We feel as players that too many teams have gone into a season without any intent to win during this past CBA.’’

He is right about that. Just look at the Pirates. Remember what the Astros did in their rebuild? That was before the electronic sign stealing. Remember what the Cubs did in their rebuild?

And right now, how about teams like Cincinnati?

The Bengals are in the Super Bowl, the University of Cincinnati Bearcats became the first non-power conference team to secure a spot in the College Football Playoff … and then you have the Reds cutting payroll.

As my friend, sportswriter legend Hal McCoy said of the Reds with the Bengals in the Super Bowl: “Maybe now they can at least try to be competitive instead of residing on that MLB list of tanking teams. Can Joe Burrow play shortstop?’’ Joe Burrow is the perfect example of having the athletic mindset of finishing what he started.

And how about the Yankees? Are they just betting that Manfred can get them into October with an expanded playoff pool? This team once had an aggressive mindset the fans loved. Now the front office mindset is analytically driven – algorithms have replaced attitude. Analytics have a place, every good baseball person knows that, but analytics can’t be the entire package. My advice to all these tanking teams and teams like the A’s who will have a minuscule payroll this season, and especially my advice to teams that are actually good: Push your pitchers a little more, starting in the minor leagues.

Work on a mindset of finishing what you started even though that is not possible the way baseball is treating pitchers these days. Start there and that could be the first step to bringing the game back to some of its former glory.

With the way Manfred and Clark are battling, looks like you’ve got at least six weeks to get your head on straight.

Most of all, don’t be afraid of your own shadow.

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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