Baseball trots forward … slowly

SHOHEI OHTANI is the rare pitcher who can excel at the plate (Angels photo).

Baseball, one of the most hide-bound of major sports – or should we say, horsehide-bound – is finally starting to change.

As spring training camps open after an agreement was reached between owners and players in Major League Baseball, the details of the deal point to interesting and mostly encouraging signs that our national pastime is finally starting to wake up and smell the cappuccino.

It takes a while to parse the details of the lengthy agreement, but there’s a lot of new stuff in it that would make Ford Frick – a famously change-resistant baseball commissioner – spin in his, uh, dugout.

Among the most interesting points are the following:

  • Adoption of the designated hitter rule for the National League.
  • Expanding the playoff pool from 10 to 12 teams. The six division winners in MLB will be joined with three wild card teams in each league.
  • The home field advantage for the World Series will be determined by the team with the better regular season win-loss record.
  • Uniform and helmet advertising patches allowed.
  • Potential on-field rules changes could include pitch clocks, limits on defensive shifts and larger bases. Such changes would have to be approved by a committee of management officials, union representatives and one umpire, with a 45-day notice before being implemented.
  • If the All-Star game is tied after nine innings, the winner will be decided by a league vs. league Home Run Derby.
  • Some MLB regular season baseball games will be played in Paris, London, Puerto Rico and Tokyo. Players making those trips would be paid $70,000 each for traveling to Europe and Asia, and $20,000 for Latin America.

Overall, Sports Monday thinks these are good ideas. Some are goofy, such as paying already wealthy players up to $70G to have to – horror of horrors! – get a free trip to Paris. I guess croissants are very expensive these days.

We’re also not too keen on the advertising on uniforms. We don’t want it getting out of hand the way it has in the WNBA and Major League Soccer, where you can’t tell which team is which since the jersey is splashed with a huge corporate logo.

But we like adding the DH to the NL, finally catching up with the American League that has used it since 1973. Baseball is slow enough as it is without watching some pitcher struggling at the plate and killing an otherwise promising rally. MLB teams hit .244 last season and pitchers batted .100. More offense is more appealing.

Especially encouraging is the idea of a pitch clock. Proposed but not decided is a 14-second clock with no runners on base and a 19-second clock with runners. We’re not sure what the point of larger bases is, except possibly – heaven forbid! – it would be a place to put more advertising.

In summary, a good start on updating America’s first national pastime. Let’s see more of this before the NFL, NBA and college football get too big of a lead among the fans who make – through their TV viewing and ticket-buying – the huge salaries and fat profits possible.

Sports Calendar

  • Anaheim Ducks: Tuesday at New York Rangers, Friday hosting Florida Panthers. Ducks are 27-25-10, sixth place in the NHL Pacific.
  • Los Angeles Clippers: Monday at Cleveland Cavaliers, host the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday, at the Utah Jazz on Friday. Clippers are 35-34, third place in the NBA Pacific.
  • Los Angeles Kings: Tuesday hosting the Colorado Avalanche, Thursday hosting the San Jose Sharks. Kings are 33-20-8, second place in NHL Pacific.
  • Los Angeles Lakers: Host the Toronto Raptors on Monday, Wednesday at the Minnesota Timberwolves, Friday at the Washington Wizards. Lakers are 29-37, fourth place in the NBA Pacific.

“Sports Monday” is written by Pete Zarustica, with wire service reports.



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