So, I see that new MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is picking up right where the oft-clueless Bud Selig left off. On his first week on the job, he was quoted as saying two rather ridiculous things and doing something even dumber:
1. He’s open to “banning defensive shifts”
2. He thinks baseball will eventually return to Montreal.
3. He appointed Fred Wilpon to be the head of the sport’s Finance committee.
I don’t think I need to go deeply into why #1 is a ridiculous statement; plenty of others in the blogosphere have done that already. I’ll just say this: there’s a reason defensive shifts work, and its because batters have become far, far too one-dimensional at the plate. There’s a very simple, easy method for defeating defensive shifts; bunting. Watch Robinson Cano bunt for a casual double against a shift in Boston: he barely tried to get the bunt down, just essentially punching the ball towards a vast gap left open by the too-clever Boston infield. There’s not even a fielder in the camera’s field of sight by the time the ball runs by the bag. I didn’t see this game live, but i’ll bet Boston didn’t try this shift on him again. If they didn’t, and I’m the starting pitcher … I’m probably not throwing another pitch until I see a conventional infield again. As far as Cano goes … its a line-drive in the books right?
And that’s all it will take. If every pull hitting lefty would just punch a couple of bunts towards the vacated third base position, the defensive shifting probably would drastically reduce.
If you’re *for* the banning of defensive shifts … how exactly would you do it? Put dotted lines on the field and make players stay in their positions until the ball is pitched? We’re talking about a game that’s existed for decades without such a need. How would you police it? How would you account for players running out of position to cover bunts? When the pitcher is up, is the 3rd baseman allowed to creep in? How much? What if someone fake-bunts and suddenly players are out of their “zones?” If someone cheats out of position, do you just give the player a ball or a base? How does that change the decades-old score keeping? That’s just a few of the implementation questions that would make this a non-starter to realistically force-feed into the game.
Look; if you want to tilt the power back to batters (and that’s what this is really about, right? Offense is down, strikeouts are up), then do what they did back in the late 60s. Lower the mound. Shrink the strike zone (actually … don’t shrink it, just frigging call it like it should be called and stop giving guys who throw 100 a ball off the outside corner). Or work the ball a little bit so that it plays better (wind it tighter, make the seams lower, etc). I don’t think you’re going to be able to turn back the clock on match-up relievers, power arms out of the bullpen, etc, but there are things you can do to keep the game on a level playing field.
As far as baseball returning to Montreal … I just can’t see how it would work given the current state of finances in Baseball. Yes Montreal is a huge city (Just to mention a couple of non-insignificant barriers:
- RSN TV markets: currently the entirety of Canada’s TV market is “owned” by Toronto, though the area where Montreal sits is “shared” with Boston. So that means that, much as the Nats had to make concessions with Baltimore to move to Washington, that a franchise would have to buy out these teams’ interest in the Montreal market.
- Canadian dollar values; this was one of the main reasons the Montreal franchise began to struggle in the mid 1990s; Toronto hasn’t been relevant in nearly the same amount of time. Why does anyone think this situation will ever change?
- Montreal as a franchise had some of the best talent in the game in the early 90s but couldn’t escape the generations old Olympic stadium. Modern baseball franchises depend on modern stadiums; who is going to commit to building a billion dollar stadium in the near-socialistic political climate in Quebec?
- Oh, and there’s this: the Montreal Expos were dead last in attendance every year between 1998 and 2004, when they finally departed for Washington. Even in 1994, the year they were 74-40 and were dominating the NL … they were just 11th out of 14 teams in the NL in terms of attendance. In fact, you have to go all the way back to 1983 before even finding a season where the Expos were not in the bottom THIRD of attendance in the NL. They don’t draw in Montreal; they never have. Why would anyone think it’d be any different now?
- Perhaps there’s relocation possibility to Montreal (in today’s climate, likely from Oakland or Tampa). But if you’re the Oakland or Tampa owners; are you going to be any better off in Montreal than you are today? You’d be going to a WORSE stadium situation and would struggle with RSN issues.
- If you’re going to expand the game to go to 32 teams so you can put a team in Montreal (and its tempting; Montreal is a big city, it would rank just between Phoenix and Seattle in terms of MSA sizes of US cities), then where would you put the 2nd team? The two biggest cities w/o a major league team right now are Portland and San Antonio … creating a team in Portland would revisit en masse the same Baltimore-Washington RSN issues we’ve already talked about, San Antonio isn’t exactly a metropolis itself, and both team areas would immediately be in smaller markets than places like Kansas City and Cincinnati, teams that struggle to compete because of their own small markets. Or you could argue that NY or LA should support a third team … yeah good luck with that RSN fight.
- Not to mention that a 32-team league drastically changes the playoff situation, likely forcing an NFL-like structure where four divisional winners and two wild-cards make the playoffs … thus also implying that two divisional winners have to play coin-flip play-in games against wild-card winners, eliminating the advantage of winning your division and essentially the whole point of the second wild-card as we know it now.
Just don’t see a return to Montreal.
The last point (appointing Wilpon to head the finances committee) is a joke that writes itself. Multi-millionare owner of a franchise born to mint money in the NY media market has to run his own team like a small-market franchise thanks to hundred-million dollar civil suits against him and is dependent on tens of millions of dollars of bridge loans to keep his team afloat. Yeah; that’s the guy I want involved with *anything* related to finances.
*sigh* The more things change, the more they stay the same. Oh one more thing I forgot: Baseball also felt the need to disband the “Oakland Stadium committee,” just 6 short years after it started and with seemingly nothing accomplished.
Well, at least Selig is out of the picture. Oh wait, no he isn’t. He’s going to serve as “Commissioner Emeritus” and draw a $6M annual pension. Man! What a game. How do I get that job?!