“Man may be fairly styled an animal of the class ‘gullible.’ From the hour of his birth till the day of his death, never does the organ of credulity cease to bump out his cerebrum. It is a common saying among [horse racing enthusiasts], that there ‘is a flat born every minute,’ No dictum can be based on better grounds.” – Fraser’s Magazine for Town & Country, 1839.
It turns out Rob Manfred has more gimmicks than both P.T. Barnum and Vince McMahon combined. In his continuing efforts to make baseball more appealing to a younger generation, he often misses the obvious solution in favor of new rules and ideas that seem to be sucking the joy out of baseball.
The obvious solution to reaching a younger audience is to end blackout rules and present affordable streaming options to baseball’s increasingly mobile younger audience. Appointment television has become a big ask of young viewers, as declining ratings prove. The NFL can still get away with it because it requires its teams to play just once weekly. Major League Baseball asks us to plant out butts on our sofas for three-plus hours per game 162 times per year. Who has time for that?
But instead of finding legitimate ways to shorten games (maybe fewer commercials) or make the game more digitally accessible to fans, Manfred continues to propose niche ideas and radical changes that would seem to make baseball more of a sideshow than the game it has been for over 150 years.
MLB is considering a radical shakeup to its postseason structure, and it could get pretty weird.https://t.co/udk2bzQrL2
— NBC Sports Chicago (@NBCSChicago) February 11, 2020
The latest idea (though Manfred has since said it is not yet a genuine proposal) is to increase the number of playoff teams from 10 to 14 – which isn’t a bad idea as long as the league and the MLBPA agree to shorten the regular season – but also to have the teams with the two best records in each league be able to choose their playoff opponents in a reality TV special to air after the season.
In the new system, the number one seed in each league would receive an automatic bye into the divisional round. The other two division winners, and the wild card team with the best record, would host every game in a three-game wild card round. That’s right – the better teams would have three chances on their home turf to win two games.
There’s so much to unpack here that it’s best to just read the NY Post piece and draw your conclusions. But under Manfred’s watch we have seen many radically aesthetic changes to the game that any notion or whim coming from the commissioner seem possible. In the past few seasons, the following ideas (good or bad) have been instituted, decreed, floated, or used on an experimental basis at some level of professional baseball:
- Reducing the number of minor league teams by 42 affiliates;
- A three-batter minimum for relief pitchers;
- A 30-second pitch clock;
- A phantom second base runner at the start of extra innings;
- Robotic home plate umpires; and
- Increasing the distance between the pitcher and batter by six inches or more.
Am I missing anything? I’m probably missing a few I think. I am certain that Manfred is determined to leave an everlasting legacy (good or bad) when he retires or steps down. At the risk of sounding too boomer-ish and change-resistant, Manfred is easily the game’s worst commissioner ever, easily eclipsing the tenures of Ford C. Frick and Bowie Kuhn.
Cubs News & Notes
- Tyler Chatwood is being prepped to be the team’s fifth starter.
- Nico Hoerner was an early arrival to camp and is more focused on continuing his development than starting at second base.
- Cubs players and coaches are excited and motivated at the start of camp. That’s probably a good thing but it sounds like the standard rhetoric of every team, yes?
- Brandon Morrow is optimistic that he will break camp with the team and head to Milwaukee for the Cubs Opening Day tilt with the Brewers.
- Taijuan Walker met with Theo Epstein and other members of the front office and then auditioned for the Cubs at their Mesa facility yesterday. The 27-year-old spent the last three seasons with the Diamondbacks, sporting a 3.49 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 28 starts in 2017, his last full season. Injuries have limited Walker to just 14 innings pitched since.
- Though a large number of players have arrived early, today is the official reporting date for pitchers and catchers. CBS Sports Chicago lists four things to watch at the start of spring training.
- The Cubs released their 2020 Cactus League TV and radio broadcast schedule yesterday.
- Willson Contreras is relieved he wasn’t traded this winter. He would love to come to an agreement with the team on a contract extension and finish his career in Chicago.
Contreras on rumors and making it to camp without getting traded. pic.twitter.com/5h8GzoYNF7
— Gordon Wittenmyer (@GDubCub) February 10, 2020
MLB Spring Training Notes
Not everybody hates Manfred’s latest proposal.
Red Sox executive Chaim Bloom is ticked off that fans think that the revised trade of Mookie Betts was done solely because ownership had considered backing out of the deal based on negative fan reaction.
Fallout from the Betts trade: While the Yankees remain the 3-1 favorites to win the 2020 World Series, the Dodgers are now 7-2 with the Astros’ odds dipping to 17-2. Boston has plummeted from 12-1 at the end of October to 25-1 in early February to 40-1 this week.
There is a good chance that the US amateur baseball team might not qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics.
The Giants hired Alyssa Nakken as an assistant coach to improve clubhouse culture. So far that move is paying dividends.
Reds’ starter Trevor Bauer is no fan of Manfred.
No idea who made this new playoff format proposal, but Rob is responsible for releasing it, so I’ll direct this to you, Rob Manfred. Your proposal is absurd for too many reasons to type on twitter and proves you have absolutely no clue about baseball. You’re a joke.
— Trevor Bauer (@BauerOutage) February 11, 2020
Wisconsinite Brewers fans get to “defend their turf” starting at 9 am today. Laughable.
Defend. Your. Turf.
The Wisconsin resident only presale starts tomorrow at 9 a.m. CT.
Fans may purchase up to 4 tickets for opening day and up to 8 tickets to any of the other regular-season home games against the Cubs this season.
— Milwaukee Brewers (@Brewers) February 10, 2020
They Said It
- “So far so good. I’m not going to declare I’m back or anything like that yet. I’ve been off the mound a few times and so far, so good. I’m cautiously optimistic.” – Brandon Morrow
- “[Chatwood] has put himself in a good spot to be in that role [of fifth starter].” – Tommy Hottovy
- “You have a lot of the same faces, but it’s a new group. It’s a new dynamic to the group, so I think everybody’s going to be very excited to get back, get together, and continue working.” – Ian Happ
- “It might hurt [to be traded], but it’s part of the business. I’ve been here for 11 years now, and I think nobody has been here for 11 years. I feel blessed to be here. And even if I get traded, I always will love the Cubs.” – Willson Contreras
Tuesday Walk-Up Song
Windfall by Son Volt. There is both a literal and metaphorical meaning to Jay Farrar’s lyrics, and the song will resonate with anybody experiencing change or reflection. See if you can guess what Farrar is implying beyond the obvious.