Late last night, Bud Selig took one last look over the Slaughter Swamp through those ominous ceiling-high glass windows, loosened his tie, and then departed the Hall of Doom one final time as the
Evil Overlord of Commissioner of Baseball. A few hours later, Selig's protege Rob Manfred suddenly found himself holding complete power over the entire sport--a power move that many had long been imagining as a step toward liberalization, loosening arcane blackout rules, forgetting bizarre grudges against retired players and entire organizations, and generally moving the game out of an 80-year-old's living room fire and into the rest of the world.
I'll admit it: the sun shone a little brighter upon waking up this morning. In less than 24 hours the league had gone from being manned by an octogenarian with a less than stellar record on using entire cities as legislative collateral (and who doesn't know what email is) to, well, um, anything that would be better than that. So what would Manfred's first glorious step as MLB commissioner be? Push to eliminate archaic blackouts tied to an obsolete pre-internet media climate? Actually do something about the A's/Giants' stadium debacle? Address MLB's declining influence within African American communities without simply patting itself on the back for bringing everyone Jackie Robinson 70 years ago like some kind of self-aggrandizing white savior?
Rob Manfred on eliminating shifts. http://t.co/MJ8LSCOuqC— Joe Lucia (@Joe_TOC) January 25, 2015
Okay so day one, and we've got two on-the-record ideas from Manfred. The first is legitimate interest in bringing in "the clock," or the pitching clock everyone lost their minds over last week. The second is "injecting additional offense into the game" (I don't know if it's just me, but I can think of a way to literally inject offense into the game that was tried and declared to be a problem by the US Government for some asinine reason, so I guess they don't really want it that bad).
So yes, we arrive at the proposal to eliminate the defensive shift. All of baseball is going to be in an uproar over this quote for the next few weeks, and it should be remembered that it was given in a brief interview on ESPN during Manfred's first day in office. His direct quote was that he was "open" to "things like" eliminating defensive shifts, speaking somewhat off the cuff. What should be given more credence is his open letter to fans, which basically reads like a middle-school do-you-like-me-too note passed between hands in the back of Mrs. Anderson's Social Studies class under wide eyes and naïve expectations. That, combined with the rest of that ESPN interview, should tell you that the biggest concern is not dramatically changing the rules of the game as much as it is trying to figure out how to broaden baseball's appeal to a youth market finding less and less interest in America's dusty old pastime.
Of course, the road to hell, and everything. If the league was really interested in getting kids "from all levels and all communities" interested in baseball, they could start by making it easier for said kids to actually watch their product rather than bend over backwards to appease corporate blackout rules or pull videos from YouTube, which has been utilized incredibly effectively by the NBA to grow its fanbase to anyone with an internet connection.
Or if it's really a dearth of offense that frightens Manfred and the bunch, why not follow the unnamed GM that told Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan that recent increase in strikeouts has been a much larger issue in recent years? Perhaps a more accurate strike zone could help clean up some of these late-inning lefty-zone nightmares that every single fan despises to the core of their being. Or, perhaps they are less interested in introducing a new rule to a powerful and unified union when they could very well just get half of the other one on board.
Either way, it's day one of the Manfred administration, and so far it looks like the Ted Williams special is in the crosshairs. It seems doubtful the shift would ever be fully abolished, but ideas such as banishing its use in later innings or giving teams a limited number may be more palatable. None of which makes the idea any better in the first place. In any case, it's interesting that some GM's are actually on board with Manfred's idea, which could suggest this doesn't quite have all the hot air we think it does:
This is very telling: I ran Rob Manfred's idea to limit defensive shifts by two sabermetrically inclined GMs -- and both said they agree.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 25, 2015
What do you think?