The 2023 major league baseball season has just arrived. When I grew up in the ‘50’s baseball dominated fan interest beyond any sport. Sitting in the bleachers at the hefty price of 75 cents a seat at Yankee Stadium was a wonderful treat as a child, like myself, who both played and loved the sport. Unfortunately, although I lived in Elizabeth, New Jersey, I had become a diehard Red Sox fan because my closest relative, an aunt, lived in Western Massachusetts. The records reflect the unbeatable Yankees in the ‘50’s, a fate I had to endure as a child rooting for the underdog Sox.
Unlike other sports such as football, basketball or hockey baseball has never had time-imposed limits. Innings are the measure of the game but these are not designated by time. When I attended games during my childhood, the duration of a baseball game would rarely be much more than 2 hours. Now the time of a baseball game from start to finish is invariably more than 3 hours. The long pauses between each pitch thrown along with the batter taking his own time to ready himself for a pitch has resulted in less action, which I believe, has caused less fan interest. And so, with the popularity of America’s pastime on the wane, management has decided to incorporate some changes with the hope of livening up the game.
The concept of time in baseball will no longer be limitless. Now pitchers will have 15 seconds to deliver the ball when the bases are empty and 20 seconds when there are men on base. Furthermore, a pitcher will only have two pick-off attempts per batter with a third, if unsuccessful, resulting in an automatic ball given to the batter’s count. If the pitcher exceeds the above time limits in releasing the ball, once more he will be penalized by an automatic ball going to the hitter’s count. Additionally, batters now can call only one time-out and must be ready for the pitch when the clock winds down to 8 seconds. If they are not, batters will automatically be charged a strike.
Another change made has been to increase the size of each base to 18 inches square from 15 shortening the distance from first to second base by 4 ½ inches. This will counteract the decline in base running by allowing more steals to occur. More runners challenging pitchers will add excitement to the game.
The last big change will be to reverse the data brought on by the information revolution. Through statistical analysis of how every ball player hits, defense positions have swung to the right when, for example, a left-handed pull hitter comes to the plate. No longer will this shift be allowed insofar as teams must now have two infielders on either side of second base. This particular shift was first instituted by Lou Boudreau in a July game in 1946 between the Cleveland Indians and the Boston Red Sox as an attempt to contain the Sox star, Ted Williams. That same year when the Sox faced the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, the Cardinal manager, Eddie Dyer employed this same Boudreau shift that effectively stymied the hitting of Ted Williams. Whereas I am in favor of the rules speeding up the game, this latter rule, mandating player positions, I do not favor. I have argued in the past that good hitters have to learn to hit to the opposite field where there is little defense.
The fans and sportswriters have all sent hardy boos to the Red Sox management for not extending shortstop, Xander Bogaerts, contract. To set the record straight, the Sox management offered Bogaerts a 6-year contract worth $160 million. He rejected that contract and signed on with the San Diego Padres who gave him $280 million on an 11-year contract. On the other hand, the Red Sox did sign third baseman, Rafael Devers, for a 10-year contract worth $313,500,000. One may ask why sign Devers and not Bogaerts? I believe management passed on a long-term contract for Bogaerts because he was already 30 years old whereas Devers is only 26 years old.
The stellar players get to sign long contracts that often don’t pay off for the acquiring team. An example of this was when the Angels signed Albert Pujols at the age of 31 to a 10-year contract for $240 million. Although he played magnificently for the Cardinals, he did not have one good year that compared with his days in St. Louis. In fact, before his contract ended, the Angels had little use for him, and had to give him away at a minimum cost to the Los Angeles Dodgers. I am not a fan of long-term contracts. Let us see how Aaron Judge performs this year for the Yankees now that his salary is $360 million for the next 9 years. The sportscasters all have the Red Sox finishing last in their division as they had done in 2022. Boston is currently 60 to 1 odds to win the World Series. But guess what, in 2012 they finished last in their division, but when 2013 came around they surprised everyone to win the World Series. True, Big Papi, David Ortiz, won’t be around in 2023, but still I wouldn’t rule the Sox out. They might surprise us again. And besides, I think Alex Cora understands his players and is a damn good manager. So, let’s see if the Sox can beat the odds and prove the pundits wrong in the unpredictable world of baseball
2 replies on “ Play Ball”
Nice rundown Buz! I enjoy your clarity and reasoning, which rekindles my enthusiasm for the game. I’ve gone to only one game (the “WooSox”my daughter’s family took me to as a birthday present) in the last three years, but I’ll fix that this season for sure.
I think the Tampabay Rays will certainly beat the Boston Red Sox and will win the World Series. I am sure that the authorities will probably axe this reply of mine.