What baseball needs most is change

Last week, the Major League Baseball Rules Committee finished the discussion, voted on it, and finally Approved a series of rule changes to be implemented in 2023One sentiment I kept coming back to in conversations was: Spring training is going to be so much fun.

I mean it seriously! This week is fun too, of course. The smart people who cover the sport explain the details and extrapolate their implications. These explorations serve, in part, as a justification for the traditionalists. As with all conversations about rule changes, a certain segment of the baseball-watching audience opposes any new hypotheses—the stadium timer falsifying baseball’s status as a sport without a watch—as evidence of insufficient loyalty to the game. If you love baseball, this logic says, why would you try to change it?

In response to these quick reactions, supporters of base change — or people who really understand the basic logic — have argued some version of how it’s not about moving forward, but about getting back to a better baseball.

Baseball’s existential crisis has crystallized around the popular belief that the current game is worse—or less “aesthetically pleasing,” to use highly thought-provoking language—than it once was. Home hits and runs were at the expense of balls during play; Superb shooting has outpaced the great shooters, at least in later innings; The game is longer than it used to be, with less movement and more dead time. Often with back to the way things were when I was a kid, rule changes are sold to the public as a means of recovery, not evolution.

None of this is wrong in and of itself. The problems, or at least the symptoms of those problems, are fairly straightforward. Comparisons with previous eras are useful in emphasizing the extent to which some issues are spiraling out of control. But baseball needs to change more than it used to be. Change is only for the sake of change.

“The victory for me today is the fact that we have a game that is going to play a little differently,” said Harold Reynolds, who moderated the televised press conference in the MLB offices where the rule changes were announced.

It’s a bold declaration – especially on behalf of the commissioner who He doesn’t seem to be running away from criticism that he doesn’t like sports — and an unintended testament to how resistant the fan base is to change.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks to the media during the MLB Rules press conference at MLB Headquarters on Friday, September 9, 2022 in New York.  (Photo by Eve Kilsheimer/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks to the media during the MLB Rules press conference at MLB Headquarters on Friday, September 9, 2022 in New York. (Photo by Eve Kilsheimer/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

On the field, baseball is an athletic endeavor. But in the increasingly looming front desks, baseball is an enigma. And as current players make Babe Ruth look like a beer league soccer star, recent problems in the game are coming from the front offices. This is not a value judgment, they are not trying to make the game bad, they are just trying to make their team good.

Analytics avatar Theo Epstein basically said a lot when he announced his departure from the top baseball operations division of the Chicago Cubs along with A semi-apology for the revolution he helped create. He drew a direct causal relationship between front-office gentrification and negative entertainment value. To take it a step further, not only do teams know empirically how to win, they all know the same way to win. Homogeneity by optimization. The mystery created by the current rules of baseball has been solved. So it’s time to change the puzzle parameter.

“I think disruption in general is a good thing because it creates more diversity in the responses that organizations will be forced into by the new set of rules,” said Epstein, who has been working as a consultant at MLB.

“Anytime you have the status quo that lasts for an extended period of time, it allows 30 organizations to focus on where the competitive advantages are, where the gaps in the rules are, where are the greatest efficiencies and improving their entire operations, exploration, player development, the major leagues, and training team, etc. to make the most of the money in those areas.”

He couldn’t resist the nostalgia stunt, noting how much more diverse baseball had been 20 or 30 years ago, and noting that there were no significant rule changes back then.

“So I think some of the fundamental changes — as you can see here today, and as they will continue to happen as needed — are good in that the more resourceful, the more strategic, the smarter organizations are probably already thinking about how they interact with the new landscape and many organizations have different types of responses.”

This will continue for as long as it takes to determine the new best way to win. There are thirty teams of brilliant baseball minds with high stakes incentives and an entire home industry of professional armchair analysts. I sometimes think that what baseball really needs is a radical overhaul to force sporadic tweaks rather than subtle remedies that target specific flaws in the current game. This will never happen – although a file The success of Twenty20 cricket presents a compelling case in theory – And despite all that players may feel this process has been rushed, MLB prefers extensive testing and at least a gesture of cooperation before any change is made. This process is necessarily slow, but it can be less stable. This is the declared plan in its favour.

The competition commission that approved these changes only needs to discuss the new rules for 45 days before voting on implementation. “They will continue to meet and may discuss additional, smaller changes for ’23,” Morgan Sword, executive vice president of baseball operations, said Friday.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred echoed that sentiment with broader application. The MLB is like a huge perimeter liner that requires a wide berth, but maybe that could change a bit, for the better. “We hope that over time the Competition Commission will become an ongoing review process for the way we play, [and] A smarter process for making adjustments.”

The fantasy of perfect continuity is an important part of baseball’s allure, and how timeless and in this way it connects fans across generations. But it’s just a fantasy. League conditions and playing style are always changing, even without a hand on the scale. That the changes were subtle and slow is part of the problem. No matter how you feel about the set rules changing themselves, watching the teams next season is going to be really exciting.