SCOTTSDALE – Though the game dates to the 18th century, baseball, in the modern era, appears at a crossroads. Once dominated by purists, the nature of the game shifted in the last four decades and is now, too many, unrecognizable.
The swift passage of time, a virtual monopoly on the American sports psyche, and the god-like specter of participants, seemingly, bigger than life, dominated the sports pages and airwaves.
Within the last sixty years, baseball’s dominance within the American sports landscape eroded and now, the NFL with its unmatched popularity and significant international reach of the NBA has put the baseball gods on their heels.
In order to captivate an audience, once more, significant rule changes have been implemented and are ready to take effect. If players adhere to this program and enforced, these changes will be seemed immediate. Then again, will veteran players, ingrained in individual habits and established by tradition, be willing accomplices?
The changes, introduced to the media by Major League Baseball personnel Tuesday at the Diamondbacks/Rockies training facility at Salt River, claim to herald a new era. Morgan Sword, the MLB’s executive vice president of operations, told the assembled media, “it’s probably the biggest change that’s been made in baseball in most of our lifetimes.”
Perhaps the biggest objective is to shorten the time games are played. In the burgeoning era just after World War II, major league games lasted 2 hours-30 minutes. In 2022, the average game was 3 hours-7 minutes. Now, there are prescribed time limits on a pitcher’ delivery and the increased capacity of umpires to communicate with those operating the clock, to quicken the pace.
In addition to a defined clock, other changes include bigger bases, and the location of position players. Teams must now employ two fielders on each side of second base. A fifth infielder can be used and positioned as needed. All infields in the majors now have a 95-degree LiDAR scan or a 95-foot radius drawn from the front center of the pitching rubber.
In a PowerPoint presentation to reporters Tuesday, Sword said MLB’s incentive for such rule changes resulted in a response to fans. In a dichotomy of views, MLB personnel complied numbers that show baseball resonating with young people and cited figures that baseball/softball are the second most frequently played sports. Only men and women’s basketball had more active participants.
If the game continues to be popular and draw fans in significant numbers, why the need to implement rule changes? The answer, provided by Chris Marinak, MLB’s Chief Operating Operations and Strategy Officer, is to make baseball,” the best version of itself.”
Figures presented by MLB also demonstrated 50.9 percent of fans have actually played the game and which is the highest figure of all sports. Compared to 47.3 percent who played basketball and 31.6 percent who played football. Baseball represents, MLB personnel argued, a robust following.
One aspect is that the “ghost runner,” positioned at second base at the start of each extra inning, is now permanent in the regular season. No “ghost runner” is used in any postseason game.
For the changes to be implemented, MLB players had to agree.
Because of the agreement in place between the owners and players, rule changes, which commence with the first spring training game next weekend, had to have the approval of the players.
“What I hear talking with the players, and what I see publicly, is a wide range of views,” Sword said. “I do think that once we get through this adjustment period, everybody in the game will benefit.”
Two possible results of the rule changes could be more balks called and more stolen bases.
One new rule is a pitcher can throw over to first base twice in a single at-bat to hold a runner. After the second throw, the runner realizes there is no more throws allowed and the likelihood of stealing second becomes great. One player who could benefit is Diamondbacks’ outfielder Jake McCarthy. Many pundits believe McCarthy could be on course to steal over 30 bases this season.
Elsewhere …. Pitchers and catchers report to the Diamondbacks’ Salt River training site beginning on Wednesday, Feb. 15. After initial workouts, manager Torey Lovullo is expected to meet with the media for the first time this spring at 12 noon. … Position players report on Monday, Feb. 20.