Every year, there is a host of proposed rule changes, some of which happen and some of which don’t. This year, if you’ve been paying attention, there are some minor rule changes like increasing the netting at stadiums, but the biggest rule change is a pitch clock. Since that rule change doesn’t appear likely, Manfred has said that if the average game time doesn’t reduce to 2 hours and 55 minutes, they will implement the pitch clock. The three main objections to this rule change are similar:
-“The game is fine just the way it is.”
-“Why are we catering to mainstream baseball fans that are not as passionate about the game?”
-“The game needs to be played in its original form. Stop changing it!”
There’s some validity to the first two statements. Maybe the game is fine the way it is. Revenues are up, franchise values are up, player salaries are up, and there’s no real analytics that say the game is imminently in trouble. And perhaps it’s true that baseball shouldn’t make rule changes that alienate its loyal base to chase other bases. I disagree with both of those points, but they’re very fair and valid points.
The third one is just not true. This is not the same game as the one originally played. There have been consistent changes to the game of baseball since 1857. For humor, I want to list some of the more interesting rule changes since the beginning of ball, provided to you by Baseball Almanac’s Baseball Rule Change Timeline:
1858 – The baserunner is no longer required to touch each base in order.
Could you imagine how that would play out?
1863 – The pitcher is no longer allowed to take a step during his delivery and he had to pitch with both feet on the ground at the same time.
Jordan Walden would have been a legend in mid-19th century baseball.
1885 – Chest protectors worn by catchers and umpires came into use.
That was probably a good move.
1887 – Five balls became a base on balls.
More than 5 would be a little excessive.
1887 – The batter was awarded first base when hit by a pitch.
No more freebies, pitchers!
1901 – Catchers were compelled to remain continuously under the bat.
No bathroom breaks.
1925 – The minimum home-run distance was set at 250 feet.
I’m actually not sure what this means. The shortest “porch” I can think of was the Polo Grounds, but it had a right-field wall 257 feet from home plate.
1959 – Regulations were set up for minimum boundaries for all new parks, 325-400-325 feet.
It’s hard to cry “keep the integrity of the game” when we still aren’t playing on the same fields, and it took this long just to establish some legitimate parameters for the dimensions of the field.
1971 – All major-league players were ordered to wear protective helmets.
Like increasing the netting, this has to file under “Why Did It Take This Long?” It would seem to be a no-brainer to put protective helmets on the noggins of players, but the game was around for over a hundred years before this went into the book.
To be fair, people who want the game to change as little as possible can easily point to the fact that we haven’t needed to make any significant changes to the game in the last half-century. But to say we are playing the same game as we had from the beginning, well, that’s not true.