Today is January 25, and as such, the long (and mostly successful) reign of former Commissioner Bud Selig is over. He is succeeded by Rob Manfred, who released this statement, which include these excerpts:
My top priority is to bring more people into our game — at all levels and from all communities.
Another priority for me is to continue to modernize the game without interfering with its history and traditions.
I look forward to tapping into the power of technology to consider additional advancements that will continue to heighten the excitement of the game, improve the pace of play and attract more young people to the game.
All these seem like very important things a sports commissioner should do. As we already know, baseball isn’t as accessible to underprivileged youth, who gravitate towards basketball and football (don’t get me started about ice hockey, that gets expensive).
I also agree in principle with the need to tweak baseball, but without crazy sweeping changes that might not be necessary. Manfred’s statement does address this, as a way to attract younger fans who likely don’t have as much of an attention span as we do (heck, adults don’t have much of an attention span either). But now, imagine the uproar when Manfred did an interview on ESPN suggesting that he would consider a ban on defensive shifts. The immediate Twitter reaction went something like this:
- Fix the calling of the strike zone!
- Something something PEDs!
- Jokes about random rules to stop pitchers from throwing off speed!
- It’s not about BABIP!
I liked that Jeff Passan happened upon a couple of (as he claimed) sabermetrically inclined GMs to ask their opinions. This is part of his timeline:
Another GM: “At some point we can’t pretend our game is divine and will fix itself. It is getting boring.”
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 25, 2015
This is very interesting to me because this brand of GM should understand the value of intellectual baseball and the employment of shifts to maximize the conversion of outs, yet they also realize that the status quo might not be ideal for attracting new fans. Passan also addressed the idea of BABIP not being as big of a deal as the increasing strikeouts and the amorphous strike zone:
And he’s right: The greatest effect by far on scoring has been the proliferation of Ks, and actual enforcement of the strike zone is vital. — Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 25, 2015
At this time it is probably premature to freak out about losing defensive shifts (I did it too, because I think it’s a good strategy), but it’s a good idea to at least keep an open mind to improve the game that we love. It has to survive, and if defensive shifts have to go (to some extent), well…I guess we’ll live.