For years MLB has been stubborn in how they approach the game, out of fear that they will alienate the baseball purist and the old time viewers of the game. Now they appear to be shifting their ideas, playing a bit of catch-up and jumping into the new century. They have adapted things like instant replay, and have made a strong stance against steroid and performance enhancing drugs. On top of changes by MLB, teams and scouting has also changed with the popularity of things like sabermetric statistics. No doubt, there is progression, but is moving forward and steadily away from America’s past time a good thing, or a bad thing?
These are all changes that have come about in recent years, but is progression in baseball a good thing, or does some of it completely change the fabric of the game? It is a new age, with new players with different philosophies and different mentalities about the game of baseball. A player like Dodger’s star sensation Yasiel Puig has lit up the phone lines of talk radio just as much as he has lit up pitchers and the scoreboard. At times, he plays with a Manny Ramirez, “Manny being Manny” type of attitude that can be carefree, but frustrating when it just translates to laziness. His flash at the bat is enough to ruffle the feathers of MLB pitchers all throughout the league and his cockiness is enough to infuriate opposing teams. But who can argue with his production, which includes a .318 BA, 29 RBI, 7 HR and a .408 OBP? Love him, or hate him, Puig is interesting and it is well known that “interesting” keeps ratings moving up.
What used to be baseball’s “unwritten rules,” are being broken more often, as players from different cultures and countries fill the benches of MLB squads. The old time baseball that grandpa listened to on his transistor radio back in the day are over, and the days when it was sacrilegious to break those unwritten rules have also come to an end. Today, most of those rules have gone straight out the window. Sluggers throughout the 2000’s seemed to have a large impact, as players like Barry Bonds would stop, spin and admire his moonshot home run into the right field bleachers, or into McCovey Cove that looms just outside of At&T Park in San Francisco. Flaunting and showboating has become part of the game, and the mix of old school players and the new school of thought have now clashed, and there seems to be an ongoing duel over how the game should be played.
Last season, Atlanta Braves catcher, Brian McCann appeared to be the enforcer, and the one to walk the walk when confronting players about the unwritten rules and etiquettes of the game. One incident occurred after Brewers player, Carlos Gomez stood and watched his blast into the left field bleachers. He was confronted at home plate by catcher, McCann, benches cleared and a brawl ensued. The second instance of the season that involved McCann came following the first ever homerun by Marlins pitcher, Jose Fernandez, who not only stood and watched the home run, but then spit too close to Atlanta third baseman, Chris Johnson as he rounded third base. Again, McCann confronted the player and again the benches cleared. It was a clear case of old school versus new school and a reaction to the unwritten rules of the game.
This season, MLB has implemented the instant replay much to the dissatisfaction of some baseball “purists,” but much to the delight of fans that were sick and tired of umpires not getting the call right. It is a clash of thought, both of which could be viewed as being correct, but still, it causes great changes to the game. There are simple things that will be missed from the implementation of things like instant replay. For one, the days of managers throwing temper tantrums, and having absolute meltdowns like Lou Pinella did so many times with the Seattle Mariners and Chicago Cubs will mostly disappear. The dirt kicking, spit flying, bag tossing days are pretty much over. Now everything can be confirmed by umpires tossing on a headset, calling the Replay Command Center in New York City and getting the call correct (some of the time). Meanwhile, managers stand on the top step of the dugout, gnawing on their lip and itching to call the umpire a series of expletives and making recommendations to the umpire on what he can go do to himself.
The days have passed, and as baseball and MLB attempt to play catch up with other professional sports that have dominated the sports landscape, fans of baseball sit and wait to see what is next. How much change can happen before the game becomes a small glimpse of what it once was? When do home run celebration dances become the norm after a home run, or when does a player who is hitting just over .200 on the season pretend to spin his revolvers and jam them into his imaginary holsters following a base hit? Maybe never, but never say never because as baseball continues to progress and some old school rules and etiquettes slowly vanish, the game of baseball as it once was may slowly disappear.
Commentary by Johnny Caito