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Room for Improvement

October 21, 2018

Hugh Atkins

Major League Baseball is gearing up for the World Series, and, while baseball is still the greatest sport, there are many things about today’s version of the game that really aggravate me. I won’t bother with going into things like the designated hitter and interleague play, since there is no going back with those atrocities; I’ll just stick with things that could change.

Managers wearing hoodies. I have to say that I’m not sure why baseball managers wear uniforms in the first place. For most managers and coaches, a baseball uniform is not a very flattering look. But if MLB insists that managers wear a uniform, then they should wear the full uniform and not some hoodie or sweatshirt with a clever slogan on the front it.

Eye black. In the old days of baseball, the only players wearing eye black were field floppers and players who “played the game the way it’s supposed to be played.” The given reason for wearing eye black is that it reduces glare from sunlight shining on the players’ cheekbones, but there is no scientific evidence that it provides any real benefit to the player. What really bothers me about eye black is that it has become more of a fashion statement than a useless utility. Players now smear it all over their cheeks or use peel-and-stick patches. And even if eye black reduced glare, why do so many players wear it during night games in domed ballparks?

Pine tar on batting helmets. I’m tired of seeing players come to the plate with a batting helmet that looks like they just emerged from a tar pit. Some players have so much pine tar on their helmets that you barely can see the team logo. There is even less reason to have pine tar on a helmet than there is to wear eye black.

Body armor. Unless a player is protecting a recent injury, batters should not be wearing elbow guards, shin guards, or those ridiculous-looking C-flap batting helmet extensions that are becoming so ubiquitous in today’s game.

© T.C.G.

Beards. I tuned in to a game a few weeks back and thought the Colorado Rockies had signed Rasputin to a contract. What is the deal with the long, unkempt, nasty-looking beards? Can there be a single player in the game with one of those beards who looks himself in the mirror and honestly says, “Yeah, that’s a good look for me”? If so, then maybe they should wear some eye black to knock down the glare that obviously is preventing them from seeing their face in the mirror.

I’ll take a break right here and chalk up the items mentioned thus far to peer pressure or sheepism. After all, if a player appears in Game 1 of the World Series this Tuesday wearing an ascot like Errol Flynn, then 10 more players will show up for Game 2 wearing one, and 90% of Little Leaguers will want one before next spring. Now, I’ll move on to some of the more substantial things that bother me.

Excessive celebrations. Let me start by saying that my problem with celebrations is not so much the ritual or gesture as it is with the timing. It doesn’t bother me so much if a player flips his bat after hitting a game-winning home run or if a pitcher punches his fist after striking out a batter to snuff out a rally. But I’m tired of the primal screams following routine walks or singles during the fifth inning of a regular-season game. A broken-bat double by a player on a last-place team shouldn’t send that player into a moon-walking frenzy out at second base. Every little hit or strike out doesn’t clinch the seventh game of the World Series, so players shouldn’t act like that’s what they’ve just done.

Replay reviews. I don’t have a problem with limited replay reviews. I understand that even after looking at a play from several different angles in super slow motion, it oftentimes is difficult to determine whether the umpire made the correct call. Still, nothing frustrates me more than when, even after the review, an obviously incorrect call stands. One problem with replay review is that having umpires on the review team in New York creates a conflict of interest; umpires naturally may be hesitant to rule against another umpire. If MLB continues to use replay reviews (and they will), then they need to either remove the umpires from the review team or have them conduct the review without knowing the original ruling on the field.

The shift. My problem with the shift isn’t that a team stacks a bunch of its infielders on one side of the field. What bothers me is that batters refuse to take advantage of the huge areas of the field left open to them by the shift. MLB doesn’t need a rule outlawing the shift; players need to start slapping the ball to the opposite field, especially in run-scoring situations, when facing a shift. When teams lose a few games due to overuse of the shift, then managers will quit using it.

Relief pitchers. The game strategy today is to hope a starting pitcher can go five innings and then turn the game over to three or four relief pitchers; therefore, most teams carry 13 pitchers on their roster. Five of those pitchers are starters, which means most teams carry eight relief pitchers. Every game seems to devolve into a constant parade of relief pitchers entering the game. I’m waiting for some team to install a revolving door on their bullpen; with the right sponsorship, it could happen.

Strikeouts. Oh, boy, do I hate strikeouts, which is unfortunate, since this season there were more strikeouts than hits in MLB; batters struck out 41,207 times and recorded 41,019 hits. Not a single player registered 200 hits this season, but three players struck out over 200 times. A whopping 154 players struck out over 100 times, 28 of whom struck out at least 150 times; half the teams had more strikeouts than hits. There doesn’t seem to be any stigma associated with striking out, so most players go to the plate, swing as hard as they can, and don’t change their approach even with two strikes.

One of the most impressive at-bats of the American League Championship Series this year came in the first inning of Game 4. The Boston Red Sox had runners at second and third with two out; Rafael Devers was at the plate, down in the count 0-2. Houston pitcher, Charlie Morton, was one strike away from getting out of the inning.

Devers, who hit 21 homers during the regular season and struck out 121 times, eased up on his swing and lined a soft single into left-center field, driving in Boston’s first two runs.

I’m like most baseball fans. I love to see a three-run homer as much as the next guy. But it was refreshing to see a young player like Devers, who will turn 22 on the second day of the World Series, do whatever it takes to get the runners across the plate.

Even with all its flaws, baseball is still a great game, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be better.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. James Rose permalink
    October 21, 2018 11:00 pm

    Hugh – I would add “Postseason TV Coverage” to this. I have heard more than once that the Division Series and the League Championship Series should be on ESPN or a major network – not TBS and FS1. And I agree.

    Like

    • October 22, 2018 12:28 pm

      Thanks, James. I appreciate you reading the post. You are correct; the postseason, in all sports, should be on the major networks. While I was writing this, I thought I might come across as the old man chasing the kids off his lawn, but I feel like there are some things about baseball that could be tweaked.

      Like

  2. Anonymous permalink
    October 22, 2018 9:25 am

    garbage article, written like you’ve never watched baseball until this month

    Like

    • October 22, 2018 12:30 pm

      Thanks for reading the post and visiting my site. You are correct; lots of the things I mentioned are on full display in the postseason. I have been following baseball since the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, so I’ve been watching for a long time. Have a good day.

      Like

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