SI Vault
 
GONE CRAZY
TOM VERDUCCI
November 04, 2013
THE CARDINALS AND THE RED SOX BROUGHT THE WEIRD IN THE 109TH FALL CLASSIC, A SERIES FULL OF TENSE GAMES AND NEVER-SEEN-BEFORE ENDINGS. BUT LOOK PAST THE DRAMA AND THE TWO EVENLY MATCHED TEAMS, AND YOU SEE A SPORT IN NEED OF CHANGE. THINK THE DH WAS FUNKY? MAKE WAY FOR THE BONUS AT BAT
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November 04, 2013

Gone Crazy

THE CARDINALS AND THE RED SOX BROUGHT THE WEIRD IN THE 109TH FALL CLASSIC, A SERIES FULL OF TENSE GAMES AND NEVER-SEEN-BEFORE ENDINGS. BUT LOOK PAST THE DRAMA AND THE TWO EVENLY MATCHED TEAMS, AND YOU SEE A SPORT IN NEED OF CHANGE. THINK THE DH WAS FUNKY? MAKE WAY FOR THE BONUS AT BAT

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Such tension was good for ratings, especially as it lasted deep into the night. While 9.3 million viewers watched the first pitch of Game 3 at 8:07 p.m. Eastern time, 14.1 million viewers watched the last pitch and that bizarre (but correct) obstruction call at 12:01 a.m. Eastern time. Overall it was the highest-rated, most-watched Game 3 since 2009 and gave Fox its best Saturday-night viewership since January. World Series ratings were up 13% over three games compared with last year.

Speaking before the weirdly epic Game 3 in St. Louis, and addressing media queries about the NL's possibly adopting the DH in response to the decline of offense, commissioner Bud Selig said, "I'm never going to say never to anything. But at the moment is there anything going on? No. If somebody has something to say, I'm glad to listen."

SELIG TURNS 80 next year, in what he promises will be his final season as commissioner. Selig has shown a willingness to think creatively to improve the game; for example, this year he reversed his opposition to an expanded replay system, which is scheduled to launch next season. But most club and league executives believe further substantive changes to how the game is played will wait until a successor to Selig is chosen. Those changes could come quickly and boldly if the next commissioner is progressive-minded and considers baseball an entertainment option fighting for attention in a fast-paced cultural landscape. "One of the things we have to get rid of is this idea that you're not supposed to celebrate or show emotion in baseball," says one high-ranking official. "That's something we need to encourage."

Ironically, just after Selig allowed for the slight possibility that the DH could be adopted fully, the Red Sox and the Cardinals played a fascinating game of strategic baseball that is possible only under NL rules—without the DH. Managers John Farrell of Boston and Mike Matheny of St. Louis used 35 players, including 12 pitchers, a World Series record for a nine-inning game. Fifteen players hit in the ninth spot in the batting orders, and five pinch hitters were used—and Farrell was still left to curse a double switch he neglected to make in the eighth inning.

Despite all that maneuvering, the Red Sox and the Cardinals had only four extra-base hits in Game 3, none of them home runs. Each team's best hitter, Ortiz and St. Louis rightfielder Carlos Beltran, was intentionally walked in the eighth inning. (Ortiz reached base 12 times in his first 16 plate appearances in the Series, including eight hits in 11 at bats. "That's why we call him 'Cooperstown,' " Ross said. "He is a true superstar.")

Other sports benefit from fans' knowledge that the star players on the field or court are going to get a chance to win the game in the most critical moments—Tom Brady will lead the last drive of the Super Bowl, LeBron James will take the last shot in the NBA Finals. But baseball loses that attraction because of the intentional walk and because of the rigidity of the batting order.

To modernize the game and help create those biggest-star-on-the-biggest-stage moments, baseball should consider a mechanism that guarantees the best players get to hit at the most exciting times. Call it the Bonus At Bat: Once per game a manager should be allowed to pick any player he wants to hit. You could send your best hitter up for this Bonus At Bat even if it's not his turn in the order—and without having to remove anyone from the game. For instance, if the Cardinals walk Ortiz with a base open to pitch to Nava, Farrell could invoke his one Bonus At Bat to let Ortiz bat a second consecutive time. (Nava would be skipped in the order but would remain in the game. A pinch runner would take Ortiz's place at first, and that player would remain available for further duty later in the game.) What if Ortiz is on second base in the eighth inning of a tie game and the eighth spot in the lineup is due up? Farrell could send in a pinch runner and pull his DH off the base paths and into the batter's box.

The Bonus At Bat adds not only the possibility of more action but also another element of strategy, a key tenet to a sport that derives much of its appeal from the power of choice. Do you let Ortiz bat in the second inning with the bases loaded and the ninth-place hitter due up? Or do you save your Bonus At Bat in case you're down by a run in the ninth inning? "I like the idea," says Boston general manager Ben Cherington. "My initial reaction is that it sounds like a good idea that deserves some discussion."

Says St. Louis GM John Mozeliak, "I'd have to give it some more thought and study. It may be a good idea, but I would have to think about it."

What both World Series GMs agree on is that without changes, pitching will continue to dominate—and strikeouts and walks will continue to consume more pitches and time without the ball being put in play. "Young power pitching is the currency of the game today," Mozeliak says.

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