Opinion: MLB rule changes are wise – but be careful what you wish for

Evolution is inevitable, and good, and that can even apply to baseball.

Change once came in drips, but two decades of innovation on the backfields and batting cages and boardrooms has flooded the diamond.

And now Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred wants to blow up the dam.

A bevy of significant rule changes – oft discussed, but often not long for the negotiating table – are being batted about by MLB and the players’ association, a list of bullet points that go far beyond limiting mound visits or telling pitchers to hurry it up a bit.

No, what’s on the table right now would, to borrow a turn of phrase from Manfred, render extinct significant elements of baseball as we know it.

Pitchers hitting? Not in the universal DH era.

Lefty-on-lefty matchups? Not if pitchers are required to face at least three batters.

A timeless game without a clock? Nope – you better release that pitch in 20 seconds or less.

There’s a fine line between innovation and change for change’s sake, of evolution and overreach based on current conditions.

There’s a lot of smarts in these proposals, which were first reported by The Athletic. And there’s also a Pandora’s box of unintended consequences. Let’s try to parse them out:

The universal DH

Unless you’re 55 or older, you have no solid recollection of a world without the designated hitter. If this sounds like a gentler way of saying the most strident opponents of the DH are dying off, well, you’re probably correct.

It would certainly be a drag to see what we’ve come to know as the National League style of play vanish. And the universal DH will almost assuredly tack time onto the game, as one more Three True Outcomes slugger will grind out lengthy at-bats where a pitcher once quietly and quickly flailed.

Still, it’s not like the National League has lapped the American in time of game; in the past four seasons, just 19 of the 37 teams whose games ran the longest hailed from the AL. Length of game seems to correlate more strongly with whether a team is in contention – and thus, more deliberate in its actions.

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The union will certainly not object to a bevy of higher-paying jobs getting created, and it would enable guys like Mark Reynolds to sign actual, major league deals rather than the boiler plate (collusive?) minor-league deal with a $1 million guarantee should he make the team. (Reynolds, it should be noted, has produced an .821 OPS the past three seasons while getting paid between $1 million and $2.6 million).

So, the double switch will die. There will also be more home runs, and a slot in the lineup for marquee players who might otherwise take the day off altogether. We can live with that.

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