Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Screwing Tony LaRussa: For The Good Of The Game

FTT is eagerly awaiting the start of the baseball season, so that we can get back to doing what we do best – infuriating the rest of our fantasy league with our startling genius. (Seriously, our track record is a championship last year, a 2nd place in 2005 and 2003, and some wins in offline league way back in the mumble mumble. As Tim Hardaway would say, we got skeeellllzzz. But we’ll talk about that later.)

But while we wait, here are some rule changes that the sport should undertake, seeing how it’s so quick to made, um, one rule change (the DH) in the last 34 years. These will happen fast.

1) Limit the number of pickoff attempts that a pitcher can throw to a base.

Let’s go for three per plate appearance. If you throw a fourth time and the runner gets back, they’re awarded second base, and it counts as a steal.

Day to day impact: Relatively minor, but it would probably speed up the games a bit, especially in the NL.

Potential playoff impact: Huge. Closer on the mound. Base stealer on first. And there’s a finite number of times the pitcher can go to first. Drama, baby.

Justification: If the pitcher throws a pitch out to try to control the running game, it’s counted as a ball. Four of them, the runner is on second. So it matches.

People this hurts: The Oakland A's, who I root for, but so be it. Pitchers that can’t hold runners on, and attempt to just wear the runner out with persistence. Everybody hates the latter group. Screw ‘em.

2) Every pitcher who enters the game has to pitch.

It’s the 8th inning, close game, men on base. In trots the lefty from the pen to face your team’s left-handed hitter. But oh ho, your team’s manager goes to a right-hander. And now the lefty is leaving, and a new right-hander is in… and the excitement is rivaled only by particularly long review challenges in the NFL.

FTT blames Tony LaRussa, the opera-loving freak, for all of this. Let's take a good look at the man who introduced open-air dentistry to the late innings, shall we?


For the relatively small (and in some cases, possibly illusionary) gain in percentage, everyone in the stadium has just watched the players stand around for, at the minimum, five minutes. If that doesn’t seem like a lot to you, please stare at your computer clock now, and wait for five minutes to elapse. See? Too damn long. Boy, you are a patient person.

Anyway, if the pitcher has to stay in to face at least one hitter, maybe we start to rein in the cancerous LaRussian timewaste tumor that has infected baseball in the last 20 years. Next time he’s behind you in a line, please waste at least 5 minutes of his day talking about his motivation. Then, make it 10.

Day to day impact: Depending on the time and the league, games lose something like 10 to 15 minutes of absolute dead time. Some relievers get overworked without the one-out guys taking as much of their time, but probably not by an incredible amount.

Playoff impact: Huge. Strategic decisions are amplified, late innings move faster, everyone starts to like baseball again, and FTT is nominated for the Nobel Prize in Baseball. (There’s no Nobel Prize in baseball? Damn. We had a speech ready and everything.)

Justification: If baseball was meant to have situational substitutions with vast numbers of players who never got a real chance to play, the rosters would be a heckuva lot bigger than 25 guys.

People this hurts: Prancing Tony. He’s got a ring, he won't care. The immediate families of borderline platoon-only relievers. (Nearly) Everybody hates these guys. Screw ‘em.

3) The hitter can refuse an intentional walk.

The intentional walk is nearly unique in American sports: a defensive capitulation that is, theoretically, in the defense’s best interests, and can not be refused by the offense. Think about that – the defense isn’t good enough to risk facing the offensive player in question, so they’ll take a smaller penalty and be rewarded for their cowardice. Do you have an out like this at your job? We didn’t think so.

So after four wide ones are thrown, the hitter has a decision to make. Drop the bat and walk to first, or stand in and go again. If he works another walk, he takes second, and all base runners move up 180 feet. But if the hitter stays in the box, the pitcher can be replaced, while the hitter can not.

Day to day impact: It’d be like going for 2 on the PAT in football – rarely done, but something that will make you move to the edge of your seat. It would also have serious repercussions in the hitter fails. And it would be one more thing to hiss Barry Bonds for, and we all could use that.

Playoff impact: Huge. Strategic decisions amplified, late innings get more dramatic, everyone starts to… oh, we already wrote that? Well, ditto. Times two.

Justification: People spend a lot of money to see the best hitters in baseball. Taking the bat out of their hands, without an option, is poor customer service.

People this hurts: Pitchers who don’t have the stones to face the best hitters. Everybody hates these guys. Screw ‘em.

4) Blow up the Hall of Fame and start over.

We’ve been to Cooperstown; it’s great. And it deserves better than the current Hall of Fame.

Not for Mark McGwire, or Pete Rose, or Shoeless Joe Jackson, or any of the other people that have their own constituencies. Not because of the weirdness involved in the “No 100%” sportswriter nerds. And not even for the dozens of marginal Veterans Committee types that got in thanks to Frankie Frisch’s homerism.

Instead, do it for Buck O’Neill. Because there was absolutely no justifiable reason for the institution to do what it did to him, and there is no justifiable reason for it to continue after that.

When you start over, induct only a small and fixed number of players for each decade – ten will do. Instead of arbitrary stats that become skewed with different eras of baseball, simply ask this question: who were the very best 10 players in the game for that decade, the ones that you could not tell the history of the game without.

Disregard all morality, since that’s not germane to what happens between the lines. (The fact is that you can’t tell the story of baseball in the 1910s without Jackson, the 70s and 80s without Rose, and the 90s without the Roid Boys. Fame includes warts.) Layer the voting so that players, sports writers, historians, broadcasters, and even the fans can have input. (The latter get to pick the single player from their team for top consideration for the decade. This will also be good fun for the rest of us, as we watch Yankee and Red Sox fans kill themselves squabbling over who should go.)

Then, we’ll have a place where the standards aren’t always under attack and in transition. A place where everyone knows why someone was there. And the Hall of Fame will never again have people in it who don’t belong.

Justification: It’d be, well, a true Hall of Fame.

People this hurts: The friends and families of guys who get disinterred, and the sports writers who enjoy their stranglehold on the game’s highest honor. For the latter, at least… well, you know.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

A couple of thoughts on this:

I remember reading in "The Diamond Appraised" about the concept of limiting the number of pickoff throws. The authors came to the conclusion that when you are down to your penultimate or final attempt, the pitcher would just step off, and that would make the game longer.

MLB requires pitchers to face one batter unless the cannot due to injury. In 2005, I remember Kelly Wunsch was called in to play LOOGY on Todd Helton. Wunsch fell down the steps injuring his ankle. Of course, the Dodger reliever gave a 3-run HR as Helton mashed it into the upper deck.

The Truth said...

Anonymous is correct. Once you bring in another pitcher, if the opposing manager brings in a pitch hitter, you can't put in another pitcher to face him. Stick to Fantasy Five Tool.