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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: June 22, 2024 7:14 am PDT

BY KEVIN KERNAN

This is Rob Manfred’s game now.

Manfred and his multiple minions are in charge of Major League Baseball.

Kids, when you grow up, try to avoid becoming a minion. Look up the definition and you’ll see what I mean.

Silly us. We thought baseball belonged to the fans, a public trust of sorts but the results of this past week and the ballyhooing of the game’s changes that are now set in stone have taken another bite out of the game that used to be MLB.

My advice to those fans who feel the game is not what it used to be: Go play pickle ball. It’s the new hot sport and easy to learn and you will get your exercise. By the way, the paddles are not as big as a pizza box, so there is that too.

As far as I’m concerned moving forward, baseball can do whatever it wants. Cut another 42 minor league teams out of the equation, Rob.

You truly are creating more pickle ball fans for the future.

Wear it, MLB.

From this point forward, you get what you deserve; but later in the column I’ll offer some advice to those teams who actually want to teach their players to be better and take advantage of all these new rule changes (that is if there are any teachers still in organizations).

Now you have MLB runners putting oven mitts on their hands and sliding into pizza boxes.

And remember here at Baseball or Bust we’re ahead of the game. Aaron Judge took some throws at first base on Tuesday in Tampa, sending Yankees Universe into a tizzy; but if you were paying attention, after Judge turned down the $213.5 million Yankees offer last year, I wrote a column that said you can expect Judge to start working on first base in the future as well. It’s all part of his plan to make himself more versatile.

This week Manfred, the commissioner, made his “temporary’’ rule permanent with a fake runner on second base to start extra innings during the regular season. Brutal. And just check out some of the reactions to this move on social media (which, by the way, is not very social).

Then there is the new pitch timer, the new mound disengagement rules, and the banning of the shift so managers now will be ordered where to play their players. There’s bigger bases, too, as if some of the greatest athletes in the world can’t find the same size base that has been in use forever in the game.

Kudos to Boston manager Alex Cora who said what we all are thinking: the new base looks like a pizza box.

Even in the schoolyard, when we sometimes had to find our own bases growing up in Kenilworth, NJ and playing on the back-to-back fields at Harding School, we wouldn’t dare put a pizza box out there as a base; that was way too big. We all knew that. That wasn’t fair.

And we had no fear about running into the first baseman. For the most part we were all coordinated enough not to do that. We’d occasionally run into an infielder making a tag at second or third or the catcher at home plate. It was part of baseball.

Hey, what did we know? We just knew we loved baseball. We were only 10 years old and playing baseball for the fun of it.

Now you have MLB runners putting oven mitts on their hands and sliding into pizza boxes.

Rob Manfred

``They're about THIS big.`` MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks to the media during the Spring Training Cactus League Media Day at Arizona Biltmore on Wednesday, February 15, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Here’s a question for you Rob:

When was the last time you drove by a baseball field on your way to the golf course and saw kids playing baseball on their own (no organization, no leagues)? Just kids having fun playing baseball, a bat, a ball and gloves, just playing the game. No adults hovering over them.

You know, like all the kids out there now having fun playing pickup basketball. Or the kids out there playing touch football or running around on the lacrosse field working on their game or out there playing soccer.

Baseball is run by elites, governed by elites and the common man has been left behind; unless, of course, that common man wants to put a wager on how many hits the pitcher will give up in three innings or how many pitch timer infractions there will by the pitchers and the hitters.

By the way, with the bigger bases, 90 feet between bases is no longer the rule of the day; and that’s sad if you care about the game.

If you don’t care about the game you can look at it this way: your marketing people just picked up 4 ½ inches of advertising space.

Of course the players like the fake runner for the extra innings – they don’t have to work as hard, they don’t have to earn first base anymore, now that the fake runner is a real rule like four balls for a walk. If you make the last out of the previous inning, you are entitled to second base in extra innings. You didn’t earn it in any way except for failing in your last at-bat but you are entitled to be at second base. You have been granted two bases for failing at your job. Really?

Just think about that for a second.

Hitters can get that mystery RBI too that pops up out of nowhere with the entitlement base. The rule says he gets second base in extra innings after making the last out of the previous inning, so you the hitter can get pretty much a fake RBI, if you manage to make contact – a big if.

Even though life is tougher for the pitchers with the fake runner, they seem to be all for it too; because it lessens their work load. Can’t have these players over-exerting themselves for overtime baseball. It’s only the regular season, c’mon man, why should we have to go all out in extra innings? Save it for the postseason.

You must put that carrot at the end of the stick instead of playing the game the way it was played forever and earning your right to be on second base.

And stolen bases – players used to have pride and wanted to steal a base, and there are still a number of players out there who want to steal a base. Most of them, though, had the brakes put on them by the risk averse insurance men in charge of the game; after all, you only get 27 outs, use them wisely. Don’t dare run into an out stealing a base; but, yes, Mr. Nine Hole Hitter you can swing from your ass and strike out, no problem, that is not the same kind of out as trying to steal a base and being thrown out.

And let’s not forget the reliever has to deal with the three-batter rule. That’s another dandy that Manfred and his minions came up with to change the game.

They say this is progress. You can have it.

A wise baseball man told me on Wednesday that this was the Manfred Plan all along. When Covid hit in 2020 that offered the opportunity to make big changes.

Big changes have been made.

“He’ll do stuff in the name of Covid and everything else and we won’t recognize the game in five years,’’ was the comment back then and it has all come true.

Seems like they are right on time as the 2023 season begins, and spring training is a test tube for teams to get used to all the new changes.

Morgan Sword, MLB Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations speaks to the media regarding the new bases during the On-Field Rules Demonstration at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale on Tuesday, February 14, 2023 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Before you bother to tell me you like the new speed up rules or the anti-shift rules, let me point out that these changes could have and should happened organically in the game. Pitchers needed to work faster, batters needed to be ready to hit earlier, and all that could have been done on its own; rule changes weren’t needed. Clocks were never needed in baseball. Now they will be everywhere.

And hitters could have destroyed the shift if they had just bothered to hit the ball the other way on occasion; kind of what Jeff McNeil did last season, batting .326 to lead the National League and earning himself a four-year, $50 million payday.

The minions also had to re-define when you can utilize a position player as a pitcher. I’m not going to bother to go into the details of that rule but consider these words from a baseball lifer: “All the people in charge who had 15 pitchers are using position players in Major League Baseball. The whole thing is a mess. It’s a bunch of travel ball people running Major League Baseball.’’

Ain’t that the truth? Nerds Gone Wild and fans getting the short end of the stick.

And these are the wisest words of all, something I have been saying as well.

“You don’t legislate to make the games better, you teach how to play the game to make the game better,’’ our baseball philosopher said.

It’s hard to teach the game to players though when you get rid of the teachers. That’s what a lot of front offices have done in the name of progress. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had over the last four years with baseball people who were forced out of the game by those in charge.

As for the new numbers readers, they are trying their best but they aren’t teaching the game like the teachers taught the game. They are spewing data. Take the data and use it to teach; that is, if you know how to teach the game of baseball.

“We need to teach better,’’ our baseball man said. “We need to make the players who are gifted athletically play the game better.’’

No gimmicks. No shortcuts. No get rich quick schemes.

No FTX Baseball.

Teach BASEBALL to FIX Baseball.

I expect that this year from the likes of Buck Showalter, Bruce Bochy, Dusty Baker, and some other managers who want to teach the game.

General Manager Chris Young, Jacob deGrom #48, and Manager Bruce Bochy #15 of the Texas Rangers react at an introductory press conference at Globe Life Field on December 8, 2022 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ben Ludeman/Texas Rangers/Getty Images)

Hopefully a few organizations will follow that path, and I am encouraged by some teams doing that. Get baseball teachers back in the fold. Right now every team should have a base-stealing guru as a coach, instructing these players to force the issue of two mound disengagements and then get the jump of your life. Or get the jump early when the pitcher is afraid to disengage from the mound. It has never been easier to steal a base. First and third situations should easily become second and third situations. At the same time, take that No. 9 Hole Hitter and teach him to put the bat on the ball à la McNeil to drive in those runners from second and third with a single, a hit that does not have to be 110 mph to be productive.

Do that, and your team will have success. Do that and you can make a mockery of the new changes by Manfred and his minions.

This is a golden opportunity, but you have to have teachers who can teach the golden rules of baseball. Make more contact and drive in a few more runs and suddenly you might not have to play those fake runner extra inning games.

Make more contact and drive home runs when you catch that pitcher in a slide-step fastball that’s not quite up to speed. Go up there on occasion looking for the slide-step fastball and crush it.

As AMBS says: Raise the bar even when they try to lower the bar.

In Scottsdale on Tuesday reporters were given an on-field demonstration of the pizza box bases and all the rest: “This is going to be the biggest change in baseball that we’ve seen in our lifetime,’’ announced Morgan Sword, MLB’s executive VP of operations.

Sword said he wants to see more balks called. Fantastic. Angel Hernandez take center stage, please.

Yes all this is a change, but it’s not baseball. Fans want all these changes, the minions insist, but really what fans want is baseball to be baseball. There is nothing wrong with the game when it is played right. The fact that these things need to be legislated tells you there is something wrong with how the game is being taught and you can be sure the Nerds will try to skirt around these new rules as well; and we soon will see left fielders playing somewhere behind second base, something else I said would happen a while back. There will be shifts of a new nature.

Here is a final word of advice: instead of constantly trying to game the system, Nerds, how about teaching the game?

Chew that one over at your next pizza party.

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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