For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: July 19, 2024 9:11 am PDT

Legendary baseball writer Dick Young used to call those running the game the Lords of Baseball.

It is now the Nerds of Baseball. In every way.

Nearly each week new proposals are thrown against the minor league wall to see what sticks. This week it is moving second base inward in the minor leagues to shorten the distance between first and second by 13.5 inches.

Yes, these people have too much time on their hands.

To them, the game is a science experiment to be toyed with day after day. Instead of having solid baseball people around to teach the fundamentals of the game, like how to get the proper jump to steal second base, they want to change key aspects of the game.

It is commissioner Rob Manfred who is allowing all this to happen. For every step forward in the game where you might get excited about a talented player, there are two steps back with changing elements of the game. This week we learned about the movable feast of second base in a column from the Athletic’s Jayson Stark.

This move isn’t new by the way.

On the 16th Street Playground in Kenilworth, NJ, back when I was growing up, depending on the situation and if you were caught doing it, second base would move quite frequently. If your team was at-bat you would slyly kick the bag a little bit toward home plate on your way in from the outfield to make the route from first to second a little shorter, and you would not do it in such an obvious way as kicking the loose bag toward first base, you would kick the back toward home plate, hoping no one would notice between innings.

“All in all, you could say there is a major shrinkage issue. Seems like that is what Manfred and the Nerds are going for in the littler picture.”

We were nerding long before baseball made it popular.

You would not want to kick the bag toward first because then you would have a longer trip around the sun to get to third base, so you would kick the bag toward home a bit and the distance from first to second and second to third would shorten.

See Nerds, we know all your tricks and have tried them ourselves, when we were like 12 years old. Eventually we grew out of that phase of our life as we matured.

Manfred is going to institute this move in the minors for the second half of the season this year for MLB feedback. Because of right angles second base was never exactly 90 feet from first, we were told, it was more like 88 feet and 1.5 inches away from first. Now it will be 87 feet so the distance is shorter.

It has been the old way since 1887. Perhaps the NFL will follow suit and make their field shorter than 100 yards long.

That seems to be a shrinkage trend in Manfred’s World.

In present day hitter’s ballparks the fences are closer to home to benefit the loft anglers, the strike zone is smaller than back in the day, too, so there is shrinkage there as well and the Manfred Ball seems a little tighter so it travels farther than in years past.

All in all, you could say there is a major shrinkage issue. Seems like that is what Manfred and the Nerds are going for in the littler picture.

Manfred is the Commish, more power to him, Shrink Away Rob.

Just don’t expect those who have played by certain baseball rules their whole life to jump on board this New World Order of Baseball that also includes Mr. Snuffleupagus, Rob’s imaginary baseball friend who pops up on second base in extra innings.

You can’t have the overworked players trying to create a winning run solely on their own, now can you? You have to give them help –  and Rob is here to shorten games with the Fake Runner. Yes, more shrinkage in the game.

Rob Manfred's imaginary friend, Mr. Snuffleupagus.

Forget about just acquiring athletic players who have the outright ability to steal a base like you know, has been going on in the world of baseball since Ty Cobb stole the first of his lifetime 897 stolen bases back in 1905.

Can’t have that.

Must help along with a shorter path and make it more difficult for pitchers to hold runners. The game no longer polices itself and runs itself, the Nerds will run every aspect of baseball and they are doing one bang-up job.

Just let the players play would be my advice. Teach them to read the angles and the path of the baseball to race from first to third properly, don’t just shorten the distance.

And don’t be petrified of stealing a base because it could blow up in your Three True Outcomes face.

A defensive-minded former MLB catcher I know was not so thrilled with the changes either noting of the Nerds of Baseball in a text to me: “Clowns. They want more runs but want to speed the game up. Figure that one out.’’

This non-Nerd was a longtime coach and a manager as well so he knows the game inside and out and makes one terrific point there.

This was his general comment on the prospect of moving second base inward to make it closer to first base: “Just when I thought they ran out of ideas to screw this game up, they want to move second base closer to home plate, apparently for more steals,’’ he said. “First off, the manager has to give the green light for runners to go. And more importantly, how about signing more speed guys and developing them for the big leagues.’’

That makes a ton of sense, but the key word there is “developing.’’ Since a lot of “development people’’ in baseball have been replaced by data-reading coaches that is not as easy as it sounds.

And we haven’t even mentioned the clownish bigger bases that will be growing from 15 inches square to 18 inches square.

That is done for more offense and perhaps as a safety issue where there would be less chance of collisions.

“Correct me if I’m wrong,’’ our catcher friend notes, “but if first base is 3 inches closer to the hitter, isn’t first base closer for the first baseman with his foot on the edge of the bag for throws from the infielders?’’

He has a point.

At this point our catcher had enough trying to figure it all out and said, “We have idiots trying to put their stamp on this game, and it’s alienating everyone that played it.’’

Perhaps the Nerds don’t care at all about any of that. Perhaps they are after the New World Order of baseball fan.

By the way, just an aside here but imagine the frustration level of the old-time fan who grew up watching games on TV trying to figure out how to get to see Max Scherzer’s first start as a Met. That April 8th game will be on Apple TV+ part of a new series of live streaming doubleheaders, not a traditional broadcast or a cable broadcast.

Max Scherzer of the NY Mets

Hey, but baseball has to figure out new streams of revenue, so what if lifelong fans are caught in the crosshairs. Eventually those games will be available only to subscribers. Again, pay a new way to get the game or you don’t get the game.

That’s just the way baseball works right now and there is nothing you can do about it. Except not bother to go with the new flow or just listen on radio and let your imagination paint a picture of Scherzer’s first start as a Met. That $43.3 million the Mets are paying Scherzer per year is a bill to be paid by the fans because everything costly in baseball is passed along to the fans eventually.

At this point you should just be happy that you can listen to the game and someday you will have to imagine what the shorter new base paths are like if you can’t see it in person or on TV. Deal with it. It’s the New World Order of Baseball.

In an effort to better understand what is going on with the bases I reached out to a math teacher for help and this is what she told me.

“They are trying to do it to increase stealing and when they did it in the PCL last year they didn’t tell anybody they did it and successful stealing went up,’’ the math teacher said. “They are over-analyzing everything and just don’t let the game play. I was just calculating what the catcher is throwing now and it will be a shorter throw, using the Pythagorean theorem it’s 123 feet – A squared plus B squared equals C squared.  We all thought they were throwing 127 feet because we thought the bases were 90 feet apart but they just told us second base was not 90 feet from first base.’’

So is it a wash, a little bit shorter throw for the catcher?

“Yeah, because running is just about a foot closer,’’ the math teacher said. “So it’s pretty much a wash. But there is more base for them to get into as well so you are increasing that area and that could increase the probability of being safe. If you have a bigger base to slide into the defensive player has to cover more space to apply the tag. They are just trying to make the game more offensive minded.’’

My math teacher then brought up an interesting point.

“Wouldn’t this change base-stealing records because it is a shorter distance? Wouldn’t it put an asterisk on new base-stealing records.’’

With that comment the meme of Rickey Henderson holding that cartoonish oversized base over his head just popped into my head.

Rickey. (Photo via SI)

There you go.

“If this gets to the major leagues this is an asterisk situation because Rickey Henderson stole those (1,406 bases at the full length of what it was and not what it will be in the future?’’ the math teacher said.

I would love to ask Rickey that question and hear his answer.

AMBS is super simple and that is a blessing and a curse. The best way I can describe all this is the Nerds are basically moving the fences in for stealing bases.

They cannot leave well enough alone and just teach the game the right way for this next generation of base stealers.

And let’s not forget base-stealing itself has become essentially a mathematical equation. They don’t encourage base stealing unless all these variables line up.

Which brings us back to our former catcher/coach/manager who pointed out, “They are still not going to run, not in the propeller heads playbook.’’

Essentially the math teacher and the coach are on the same page.

“They are playing percentages, but they don’t realize there is a human factor in those percentages,’’ the math teacher theorized. “The catcher has to receive the pitcher’s pitch and make a good throw and then there is a breaking ball vs a fastball coming at the catcher.’’

Those are just some of the variables.

Shrinking strike zone, shrinking fences, shrinking space between bases. No sticky substances, either for pitchers.

What about double plays?

It will be a shorter distance to make a throw, maybe there will be unintended consequences. Have the Nerds thought this all out? On the front end of a double play the lead runner is usually out by a decent amount of distance but the shorter throw may help get the batter if the first baseman gives that edge of base closer target.

On throws to second on steal attempts the defender can get even closer to home than in the past as well.

“Now you are getting into non-right triangles,’’ the math teacher said. “It’s more of an acute triangle and that’s when you get into a whole different level of math. The angle has become smaller.’’

Yes it has. We will see what happens.

Perhaps the Nerds of Baseball do not have all the angles figured out.

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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