Let September 2017 be the tipping point. I, for one, will tolerate a month of horrific baseball if it finally motivates players, their union, front offices and the Commissioner’s Office to find unanimity to end what just might be the dumbest rule in sports.
On Friday, teams can begin expanding their rosters — sorry for the annual rant — but if you want to know how stupid that edict is, then just act like it never existed, and now you have to pitch it to the leaders of the sport. You would be advocating, among other things, to institute a rule in which the most meaningful games of the season will be played by rules that at their most absurd could have 40 players in one dugout vs. 25 in the other.
What other sport would allow teams to have a different number of players at their disposal? Or to play the final 17 percent of a season when the significance of each inning is more understood by rules different from the first 83 percent of the season?
For years, former Brewers GM Doug Melvin would try — unsuccessfully — to amend these protocols, citing the possibility of unfairness within these games.
That hasn’t changed. But if you watched September baseball last year, you know there is another reason change is needed. Elements that have slowed the game down from April through August — notably more regular pitching changes — become exacerbated when teams have more relievers with whom to play.
The longest nine-inning game in history — 4 hours, 45 minutes, from Aug. 18, 2006, Yankees at Red Sox — is under threat this September. I believe four-hour games will be too regular, and a five-hour game is possible. I would put the Yankees on the short list to play that long game, especially on a day when, say, Jaime Garcia starts, and Joe Girardi has an itchy finger for the bullpen phone and 12 to 15 relievers at his disposal. Wait until Girardi is playing matchups in the third inning, going from Ben Heller to Chasen Shreve to Giovanny Gallegos.
Baseball cannot talk about trying to improve its popularity and save its worst for last — interminable games played under rules more fit for March in Dunedin or Mesa than September in Fenway or Dodger Stadium.
“The September roster issue is one that we have spent a lot of time trying to address in negotiations, but without success,” said Dan Halem, MLB’s chief legal officer and lead negotiator.
The sides were close to fixing this last offseason in collective bargaining talks. They neared an agreement in which rosters would expand to 26 from April through August and then 28 for September. But it was scuttled late in the process.
The union has concerns about rules that could restrain service time — so vital for players to build toward arbitration, free agency and vesting fully in the pension plan. Management has essentially the opposite concerns because service time comes with a series of costs in salary and benefits.
But this is a $10 billion-a-year industry, and there has to be goodwill here when there is so clearly a negative impact on the integrity and the product. Roster rules were not dictated by a burning bush. These are not sacred. They should be crafted to produce the best games and greatest likelihood of player health.
I have favored that teams have a designated 30-player group it can choose from for each game all year, and that 22 are designated available each game. Remember, most teams have just 21 players at their disposal for a game because the four previous starting pitchers sit and eat sunflower seeds in the dugout. Of those 22, only eight can be pitchers.
That would leave teams 14 position players and allow teams to be creative and, for example, include a speed player like Quinton Berry or Eric Young Jr. or load up on lefty hitters for a specifically righty-heavy pitching staff (we might get a more exciting game doing it this way with more balls in play and more daring baserunning).
This would allow teams to sit a player with a five-day injury without playing shorthanded or having to use the 10-day DL and lose the player for longer than needed.
Obviously, there would be need to refine how often you can change the 30-player pod to avoid manipulation, but mainly I just offer this as one scenario. I am open to all structures, except for the one that exists now. The one that beginning on Friday can allow one team to play with 40 players and one with 25.