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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: March 1, 2024 4:45 am PDT
Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Now we know the reason why MLB is not making any more significant tweaks to the Pitch Clock rules before Opening Day even though issues have popped up during spring training. It would make sense to add some precious seconds to the clock or give the batter a second timeout to put him on equal footing with the pitcher, who has the ability to have two disengagements per batter.

The game would still move along.

But no, not going to happen.

Turns out, it wasn’t about the game at all. It was about the ad campaign.

If MLB made some additional needed adjustments before Opening Day it would blow up their latest “oh so clever’’ Opening Day ad campaign.

So MLB will not be changing any of the major components of its new pitch clock rules before Opening Day. They can’t, because as it says at the end of the new MLB commercials:

“Three New Rules. More Great Action.”

If the rules are so great, it would not look so great if they had to make big changes in the great new rules and that is why I think there will be no more significant changes to the Three New Rules.

The rules could be tweaked a bit more than they already have been. People in the know whom I respect, like David Cone, have called for the rules to be tweaked some more – as he explained in Baseball or Bust on Thursday here at BallNine.

But no, sir. Manfred & Co. didn’t want to mess with the ad campaign they got running where they have dragged actor Bryan Cranston off the shelf to help sell the game.

Cranston played Walter White of Breaking Bad fame, and Walter always did know how to make easy money.

“This game is for you, the fan,’’ Cranston says in the spot. “You want the action to flow, the bat on the ball, and daring on the base paths. This is the game we all want to see. Get the ball, pitch the ball, keep the defense on their toes. Field like Ozzie. Run like Rickey. So get that shift outta here. Free up the players to put on a show. It’s the best game in the world. Now it’s even better.’’

How about not having a lineup full of one-dimensional hitters who only try to pull the ball; how about getting them outta here?

The best game? Really? Fake runners. Now Fake strikes. Fake balls. The drama of the moment in some of the biggest points of the game will be rushed. The WBC Shohei Ohtani-Mike Trout showdown would not have been the same if Pitch Clock rules were in order. That was drama. That was what makes baseball the best game in the world.

The same Nerds who invented the shift, and told hitters to keep swinging for the fences and not to take advantage of the shift by hitting the ball the other way, or even, God forbid, put down a bunt or take the risk of stealing a base; the same Nerds who told pitchers to take more time to set themselves on the mound mentally, and told hitters to take more time in the box to set themselves mentally – they have now made the game better by adding a clock, a clock that had never been in the game before.

Let’s call it for what it is. They are now trying to fix a game they ruined.

Geez MLB, wouldn’t it be great if Trout and Ohtani were on the same team, imagine the marketing you could do with that team?

I can’t wait until your favorite hitter gets rung up on a mystery strike in a real game or your favorite pitcher, the guy you bet on with all the endless bets in baseball, gives up a mystery run on a fake ball or balk that changes the odds of winning; I can’t wait for that to happen, instead of settling the at-bat on the field, pitcher vs. hitter, like it was done forever.

Umpires have been turned into buzzer beaters. They get the buzzer from above, and the batter gets the strike called on him for not being engaged with the pitcher at the time limit – or the pitcher gets a ball or a balk. All that is part of “the best game in the world” now.

How about something simple like the brilliant Tom Glavine-Greg Maddux Nike ad from way back when: “Chicks dig the long ball.’’

And then there is comedian Sebastian Maniscalco. Basically his whole routine is about growing up in the good old days of the ‘70s, but he also is shilling for this version MLB, proclaiming how good the new rules are – as he portrays a first base coach at a youth league game who chides the opposing pitcher for blowing bubbles, instead of robotically throwing the ball at a quicker pace because Sebastian is “going dancing tonight, pick it up.’’

Again, really? That’s the best MLB could do to sell its game? Make fun of a youth pitcher for being slow to the plate so the coach can go dancing?

To me, blowing bubbles was always a part of the game.

Manfred also made it known in a memo to teams that he is not going to put up with any dilly-dallying bat boys or bat girls this season. They need to get out there and quickly do their jobs or suffer the consequences.

Geez, if they are not criticizing the youth pitcher for blowing bubbles, they are just waiting to hammer some poor little bat boy or bat girl. I was watching the Phillies-Yankees spring training game on Saturday in Clearwater and even though the umpire and players were ready to go, the first pitch couldn’t happen because Phillies pitcher Aaron Nola didn’t have a rosin bag on the mound. Eventually some bat boy ran the rosin bag out to the mound. If that were during a real game, would Manfred’s minions take it out on the bat boy or the groundskeeper or the umpire?

It would be somebody’s fault for wasting precious seconds in a baseball game. How dare they? We want to go dancing.

You can’t make this stuff up and that is why The Story always has something to write about week after week. Wait until the real games, and real betting starts.

Baseball, in its own expensive ad campaign, doesn’t have the good sense to talk about how good the game really is; instead we get the coach who wants the youth game to move along so he can go dancing.

Forget about enjoying the moment with your kids on the field, the time spent together; and anyone who has ever coached youth leagues in any capacity knows if you don’t have tons of patience as a youth coach, it’s going to be a long day, a long season. And blowing bubbles on the mound is fun. How dare that young pitcher have fun on the mound wasting time blowing bubbles?

I know it’s a joke, and AMBS has a big sense of humor. I still chuckle when in the weight room scene Maddux implores Glavine to lift the weights harder saying, “C’mon Alice;’’ but baseball can do better than to highlight its game with an adult coach chiding a youth pitcher to throw the ball and not blow bubbles.

How about something like this … having the kid blow a bubble on the mound and dream of being Shohei facing Trout. Cut to that footage. Have the bubble burst and then blow another bubble with the words: “Keep dreaming, kid.”

There, in 10 seconds, I fixed it for you, Rob.

All this is absolutely hilarious because MLB just had the greatest marketing tool it could ever dream of with the WBC and the Ohtani-Trout match-up.

Geez MLB, wouldn’t it be great if Trout and Ohtani were on the same team, imagine the marketing you could do with that team?

Imagine having two iconic players like that on the same MLB team and building around them to produce a winner and an incredible fan base.

What’s that?

They’re both on the Angels.

Well, somebody tell my man Rob so he can get his advertising people on it.

And let me reiterate, the WBC was played without the New Rules and it may have been the best tournament in the world, right Walter? But what do you expect? Walter White was a chemist and co-founder of a technology firm before he found a new line of work in the desert.

The WBC showed baseball isn’t broken.

It’s a great game like we proclaim all the time here at BallNine, if the players play the game the right way, if they don’t swing for home runs every pitch, if the pitchers work on their command, if the baserunners actually work to get a jump – and are not given the new head start rules that baseball has delivered to runners, with only two disengagements for the pitcher and the changing of the 90 feet between bases due to the bigger bases.

If the game is played with passion and using the entire field, taking advantage of the shift, instead of now creating new rules to ban the shift and bolt infielders to the dirt, it is the greatest game and the WBC proved that to all, even Manfred, if he watched.

And personally, I have to say I like pitchers who blow bubbles, but I like Maniscalco too. And I know he’s always in a rush; I’ve seen his act, I’ve heard his standing in the grocery line routine waiting for someone to pay by check.

As we all know and are reminded every day, MLB is all about the check.

It should be all about the game. It should have generations of teachers in the game as it did for over a hundred years and not just meter readers acting as pitching coaches and exit velocity coaches.

A quick point here too on injuries. It was a shame what happened to the Mets’ Edwin Diaz, tearing his patellar tendon in celebration with his brother after Puerto Rico beat the Dominican Republic. But it also was a shame for the Phillies’ Rhys Hoskins, blowing out his knee on a play where he simply was backpedaling to catch a ball behind first base in spring training. Injuries happen.

And no matter what you think of the Astros, it was a shame when Jose Altuve was hit by a Team USA Daniel Bard pitch and broke his thumb. That game Bard had no clue where the ball was going. Let me point out that Bard under other circumstances might have not been facing Altuve, because he was so all over the place; but one of Manfred’s rules was part of this as well. Relievers have to face three batters, a rule I still don’t understand, and Altuve was the third batter. So even if Mark DeRosa wanted to remove Bard from the game, Manfred’s rules would not allow that to happen.

On a side note, I have talked to Hall of Famer Jim Kaat about this rule and he thinks it is a ridiculous rule, as do I. Again, injuries happen, they are part of the game; but although years ago the Nerds promised us they would get to the bottom of all these pitching injuries, that has still yet to happen. Pitch counts are all the rage but pitchers are getting injured way too frequently. Elbow, shoulder, lat, groin, you name it. I’m wondering if the speed-up pitch clock rules will contribute to pitching injuries down the road.

Salvy blows a bubble

Salvador Perez #13 of the Kansas City Royals blows a bubble during the ninth inning during a game against the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium on September 22, 2022 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Baseball needs to get back to having coaches teaching the proper mechanics to their pitchers and not just treating the entire pitcher-batter experience as a form of speed dating, emphasizing velocity over command.

Former Major League player Jeff Frye, whom I’m guessing will never be put on a competition committee by Manfred (and take an owner’s spot, are you crazy?), brought the two new MLB ads to my attention.

As he noted in his Facebook post of the Cranston ad: “It was the best game in the world until the MLB allowed the #nerds to take it over with their data and analytics and turned it into a computer program. Rob Manfred is tinkering with the fabric of the game. It’s definitely not better!’’

Well said, Jeff. You squared that one up. I see how you hit .290 over your eight-year Major League career with a .357 on base percentage in 2,451 plate appearances.

Baseball is the greatest game in the world, when it’s allowed to be baseball.

Keep blowing bubbles, kid.

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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