To change or not to change?
Some baseball traditions should be axed, others kept
Posted: Monday February 4, 2008 3:52PM; Updated: Tuesday February 5, 2008 2:04PM
Spring training, which finally kicks off next week, is one of the game's great enduring traditions, beloved by all. Certainly no one would ever suggest doing away with it, but some of the game's other aspects are under constant fire and deemed either unnecessary or downright bad for the game.
Below, I'll offer four baseball traditions worth preserving just he way they are, and then I'll present four that deserve to get the heave-ho.
Don't Go Changin'
1) No designated hitter in the National League
The belief is that without the DH, the NL is at a competitive disadvantage, because it leaves the league's teams no roster space for some of the best hitters in baseball. This dovetails with the other argument that the NL, as the last no-DH holdout practically in the world, should just suck it up and conform.
But there are plenty of people who believe that no-DH play is not an anachronism of baseball but the apex. Count me among those who actually find the game more interesting when a manager has to decide when to pinch-hit for his pitcher -- and among those who get excited to see whether a pitcher will get a hit. Just because not every pitcher makes himself into Don Newcombe or Micah Owings doesn't mean that option should be taken off the table.
To me, the NL plays a superior game, even if at times it's with weaker players. Not everyone feels that way, but there's enough reasoned passion against the DH to keep it out, even if it means the NL loses more than its share of World Series from time to time. (As it happens, the NL has won 9 of the 21 World Series since the home-park DH rule began in 1986, hardly the stuff of great embarrassment.)
2) All-Star Game representation for every team
The All-Star Game is in a bit of a coma, with people seeming more interested in debating who should be on the team than in watching the game. Some people think the cure is to toughen the roster selection up a little bit, by ensuring that the best players are chosen for the team, regardless of whether every team gets represented. But what would that really accomplish? The debates would still continue. Some players (and in turn, their fans) would continue to feel snubbed. And meanwhile, legions of fans of losing teams will suffer another reminder of their joyless season and have less reason to tune into the game.
And substituting another Yankee for a Royal and another Met for a Pirate isn't likely to make the game substantially more competitive, anyway.
It's an exhibition, after all. It should be fun for everyone. If there's a solution to making the All-Star game more appealing, narrowing the playing field isn't it.
3) Expanded rosters in September
Some folk, including those whose opinions I really value, don't like the idea that in the home stretch of the season, the rules change -- and a game you play with 25-man rosters suddenly becomes one you can play with 40.
But how much are the rules really changing? After all, teams go through many more than 25 players during the year, periodically sending one pitcher down to the minors right after he has pitched and replacing him with a fresh arm. From start to finish, the regular season is a test of the strongest organization, not the best 25 men.
I'm as excited as the next guy when an extra-inning game exhausts a team's 25 and forces a pitcher to pinch-hit -- or even better, a pinch-hitter to pitch. But aside from the benefit of giving young players a taste of the majors they might not otherwise get, it also excites me to see the potential of an unlikely hero in September. As long as the rules are the same for everyone, the more the merrier.
4) The wild card
I feel shame. As a diehard opponent of the wild card, I'm dying hard. It never made sense to me that a team that wasn't the best in its division after six months should have a chance to be crowned the best in baseball after a seventh.
But if you're going to rule out a second-place team from one division, even if that team has a better record than a first-place team from another division, then what's the logic of allowing the inferior division winners into the postseason mix? They're certainly no more deserving. So if there's a problem with the playoffs, it isn't really with the wild card. It's with the existence of divisions to begin with.
Then again, is there really a problem with a lesser team winning the World Series? This is a country that every March is lovingly, enthusiastically trying to put Cinderella shoes on every college basketball team it can. For most people, the memory of Jim Valvano and North Carolina State making an improbable title run transcends the memory of UCLA or Duke winning. Why is it okay for Villanova or George Mason to make a run to the Final Four, but the St. Louis Cardinals' title in 2006 after an 83-78 regular season is supposed to disgust those of us outside the Gateway City?
If the best regular season team has to be the World Series champion, get rid of the playoffs. Otherwise, let's keep the underdogs alive.