Change is Good?
Read an excerpt from Chapter 15 of "How Baseball Explains America"
In an excerpt from Chapter 15 of "How Baseball Explains America," a new book examining the connection between baseball and our society as a whole, Hal Bodley writes about several innovations in the game's recent history.
When the Red Sox handed out coveted World Series rings from their 2013 championship over St. Louis, Bill James was in the receiving line.
Yes, Bill James, baseball's original sabermetrician.
He received his ring because he's a senior advisor to the Red Sox. During his tenure the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, 2007, and 2013.
Consider this: James now has three World Series rings. Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski never earned one.
Bill James is the most extreme example of how baseball invites innovation, just as America has.
During the early 1990s, Bill and I appeared on the nationally syndicated radio show Baseball Sunday from studios in Kansas City. Bill and I often sparred over his radical ideas and his techniques in rating and analyzing players. I called him a statistics guru; he argued he's a sports journalist.
Joe Garagiola, the show's host, would frequently referee our heated, but good-natured, arguments.
After spending all those hours with James I learned how gifted he is, how important he has been to the game.
Bill rewrote how we see and measure baseball. His work has shaped the Moneyball era, the players it values, and even the Academy Award-nominated movie starring Brad Pitt as Oakland general manager Billy Beane.
Even the most devout purists agree baseball has been shaped by innovation.
Commissioner Bud Selig, a self-proclaimed purist, has been at the forefront of dramatic, and I must admit, enormously successful changes to the game.
Selig, who has announced he will retire on January 24, 2015, has led baseball since September 9, 1992.
During his regime many changes have been introduced, including the addition of two wild cards from each league for the postseason, interleague play, and the six-division format, as well as many other innovations, including extensive video replay.
Nothing has been more controversial than the ratification by the American League of the designated hitter in 1973. Believe it or not, the DH was first proposed within baseball in 1891.
It's become one of the most pivotal changes to our national pastime and has triggered criticism from those who oppose it and those who love it.
On September 3, 2008, I was at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg when the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez hit a ninth-inning fly ball high over the left-field foul pole. It ricocheted off a catwalk above the field.
It was called a home run.
Rays manager Joe Maddon asked crew chief Charlie Reliford to review the call. Two minutes, 15 seconds later, after video replay was studied from the MLB Advanced Media headquarters in New York, the home run stood.
That is when replay, which only recently had been adopted, was used and became a part of Major League Baseball for the first time.
Nothing is more innovative than MLB utilizing modern technology to make sure the calls by umpires are correct.
It started in 2008 with just home run calls.
Beginning in 2014, expanded video replay is being utilized throughout Major League Baseball. Managers will be permitted to call for a replay in certain situations. The replays will be quickly studied from a bank of state-of-the-art monitors in MLB Advanced Media headquarters at 75 Ninth Avenue in New York and the findings relayed to umpires working the game in question.
Changes such as this are often difficult to accept.
The human element has been so important to baseball, there's always a danger when that is lessened.
But when you think of the technology available today and how it is so important crucial plays are called correctly, even devout purists agree video replay is necessary.
"Three or four years ago, I wasn't the least bit interested in expanded replay," Selig said recently. "Well, my father told me many years ago that life is nothing but a series of adjustments.
"And this is an adjustment that I've made."
Balls and strikes, check swings, and several other aspects of the game will not be involved.
"We do not want to lose sight of umpiring on the field," said Joe Torre, MLB executive vice president. "We have to make sure that umpiring on the field doesn't get punished by this. We may have replay, but that doesn't mean we're going to sacrifice the quality on the field."
Former manager Jim Leyland, a member of Selig's blue-ribbon committee for on-field matters, told me, "People have become so obsessed with getting the calls right. That's why they're doing what they're doing.
"I think they should replay some, but not to the extent that it is."
Doug Melvin, Milwaukee Brewers general manager has been in baseball as a player and an executive since 1972.
"I think we always have to be open-minded for something new," he told me. "In any business you do, in any sport, things have changed a lot. I do think there's a point where we do have to take a step back sometimes and think, Are the changes helping? Have they been effective?
"There's no doubt there's a lot of growth in our game, there's more money in it than ever before. The thing we always have to be concerned about is it's still a game, a family event, family entertainment. We have to make sure we don't lose touch of that.
And we don't lose touch of the history of the game…"
…During a symposium at the Yogi Berra Museum late in 2013 that brought together five current and former managers, the subject of Moneyball came up. Numbers are important, all agreed, but the human element cannot be overlooked.
Orioles skipper Buck Showalter expressed concern that players think decisions are coming not from the manager, but from numbers.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said: "I personally love numbers. That's my background. I love math, but I think you use the math to back up what you see, and I think at times, they use the numbers to try to prove a point.
"But it does support sometimes what you're trying to do. The one thing it doesn't do, it doesn't tell you about a guy's heart. And that's what you need to know if he's going to be successful in the long run, and if you want him in the trenches with you when the game gets tough."
Beane played for Tony La Russa when the latter was managing the Oakland A's, but Moneyball has no place in Tony's world.
"Michael Lewis wrote a nice story, it's got some truth to it, and Billy has taken that thing and made himself a fortune and I'm very upset about it," La Russa said.
La Russa believes there's a trend of teams relying on analytics to the point of dictating lineups and strategy to managers throughout their organizations.
"It's an arrogance for these people to stand there and tell guys in baseball that this is how you should run the game," he said. "It's arrogant and it's foolish, and if I managed again, I'd love to have five teams in the division using that process, and we'd clean their clock every day."
Nothing is more innovative or long-lasting in baseball than the box score.
We take it for granted. In fact, the term is used in many other sports as a summary of the event.
The Dickson Baseball Dictionary states that for years it was believed that the first box score appeared in the New York Clipper on July 16, 1853. "However, historian Melvin Adelman located a newspaper account of a baseball game in the New York Herald from October 25, 1845, accompanied by a sort of proto-box score that qualifies as a 'condensed statistical summary,' of the game," the Dickson dictionary states.
Box scores didn't appear with regularity in newspapers until 1876.
The term comes from the old newspaper custom of placing the data in a boxed-off section of the page.
Rule changes also fall under the category of innovation.
In March of 2014, Major League Baseball and the players association added rule 7.13, which essentially eliminates intentional collisions at home plate. It will be effective for the 2014 season on an experimental basis.
"Home-plate collisions are something you cannot ignore," said Torre.
Those who insist home-plate collisions have always been acceptable probably do not realize how the advancement of medical science has shown us how severe even the slightest of concussions can become in later years.
When Giants All-Star catcher Buster Posey suffered a broken bone in his left leg and three torn ligaments in his ankle during a collision with the Marlins' Scott Cousins in May 2011, discussions to ban collisions intensified.
"All that we know now about what's happening in any sport with collisions and concussions has to be examined, not only from the catcher's standpoint, but from the base runner's standpoint," says Giants GM Brian Sabean. "Do you really want anybody in harm's way? And should they allow there to be any malicious intent in baseball?"
Yankees GM Brian Cashman said: "I don't think catchers should be getting pounded."
There has never been a more memorable home-plate collision than Pete Rose crashing into Ray Fosse to score the winning run for the National League in the 1970 All-Star Game at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium. Fosse suffered a dislocated shoulder and was never the same player.
With 2014's rule change, plays like Rose-Fosse will never happen again. Some say that's innovation; some say it's erosion. Ruining a great game or making it better? The conventional wisdom is that only time will tell, but sometimes even time isn't enough. Let me show you:
Did the addition of the designated hitter pervert the beautiful strategy of baseball, or is it a common-sense change that makes the game more fun?
Reprinted with permission of Triumph Books, www.triumphbooks.com.