Here is a link to my Tuesday column about Rob Manfred’s really bad idea. The full text runs below:
File this in the Really-Bad-Idea Department.
Rob Manfred, the guy who’s been commissioner of baseball for about a minute, went on ESPN the other day and said Major League Baseball should think about banning defensive shifts.
Maybe Rob was having a bad day. Maybe he’s overwhelmed at being Bud Selig’s successor. Maybe he spoke before he thought. But come on, Rob.
Here’s the background. Last season, offense was down in the majors. Scoring fewer runs doesn’t mean baseball was boring or had descended to inferior status, or would go extinct. It merely meant teams scored fewer runs. Pitching dominated — always fascinating for a baseball fan.
Dominant pitching resulted in the all-time great Game 7 of the World Series, the Madison Bumgarner Game. Bumgarner took the mound in relief on two days’ rest, pitched five innings and sent the Royals to their eternal rest, at least for last season. Bumgarner gave up no runs on two hits and became an instant hero.
That’s supposed to be a bad thing?
It made Manfred and the other Big-League suits all itchy-twitchy in Manhattan. “Good heavens, the sky is falling down.”
Manfred, perhaps meaning well, wants to goose up baseball — a sport which needs zero goosing. He wants more runs. That’s where his anti-shift notion comes in, God help us. He wants to restrict fielders to certain fielding zones, whatever that means. If Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford sneaks toward second base before the pitch, sneaks over there with a man on first and one out to make the double play easier, is that a shift? Is that dirty baseball? The mind reels.
Manfred’s idea, I guess, is to help dead pull hitters — think a left-handed batter who never learned to hit to left field. Those big power guys are at a disadvantage when infielders, including the shortstop, crowd the second-base side of the infield, actually do their homework and learn to stand where the power oaf hits sharp grounders or line drives. The well-schooled infielders catch the oaf’s grounders and liners, and make the non-adaptive hitter an easy out.
Manfred thinks this kind of shift is unfair. I say it’s clever baseball. I say it’s teams using their noodles. I say a team can place its seven fielders — not counting the pitcher and catcher — anywhere it wants. If Bruce Bochy wants seven guys milling around shortstop looking like a doo wop group on a Bronx street corner, that’s his business.
Baseball doesn’t have the strict, sometimes stifling requirements of football — the offense must have seven players on the line of scrimmage, the flanker isn’t one of them, if players move before the snap it’s a 5-yard penalty. Baseball is a breath of fresh air compared to all that.
Baseball shouldn’t ban the shift. Hitters need to adapt. Need to beat the defensive shift. Need to learn.
If a team put a defensive shift in front of Tony Gwynn, he would have gone wild, hitting doubles to vacated areas like a marksman shooting at a target. Even Pablo Sandoval can do that.
Last season, teams shifted against A’s hitters Brandon Moss and Adam Dunn, two dead pull hitters. Moss and Dunn rarely went the other way, never adapted. They surrendered to their fate. Victims of their own inadequacy.
The defensive shift wasn’t at fault for their inabilities as hitters. They themselves were at fault. The game of baseball is under no obligation to make hitting easier for limited, flawed hitters like them. Teams should draft, trade for and develop players unlikely to be fazed by a shift. It’s what teams do. I mean, are you kidding me?
Baseball, the most traditional sport, the most ritualized sport and, in my opinion, the most beautiful sport always presents the inevitable, endless, thrilling give-and-take between offense and defense. Sometimes offense is ascendant — the steroid era. Sometimes pitching is ascendant — now. Manfred needs to take the long view, the historical view. Can he?
You could have fun with Manfred’s idea. It really is ridiculous.
To juice up offense, baseball should outlaw pitchers from throwing the slider. It is such a difficult pitch for batters to identify in the blink of an eye, and it is so darned hard to hit. Forget that banning the slider would put Sergio Romo out of business. Baseball needs more offense, and the slider is unfair and has to go.
Forbid pitchers from throwing faster than 95 mph. Pitchers throw too hard, anyway. Slow them down. Make home plate smaller. Place the bases 70 feet apart — 90 feet is so arbitrary. Bring in the fences. They’re so far away and Eric Sogard has trouble reaching them. So, bring them in.
How about corked bats? Let hitters cork their bats or use aluminum bats. Bombs away. More offense by the ton. And by all means make a grand slam count for five runs — throwing in a bonus run analogous to the two-point conversion in football or the 3-pointer in hoops.
Rob Manfred has started off badly. No way he considered the implications of his anti-shift idea. And you thought Uncle Bud was an idiot.
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