Spring training 2016 is coming upon us and one month from today, the first teams begin reporting for pitcher and catcher workouts in Florida and Arizona. As fun and relaxing spring training is for the many fans who make the journey to warm climates for spring ball, another tradition is the many games that are played between MLB teams at unique venues that do not normally host MLB games. Teams face one another in larger minor league ballparks, in international settings such as Mexico and the Dominican Republic, and in large multipurpose stadiums that could be temporary baseball venues for a city trying to show itself as a candidate for a potential MLB expansion or franchise relocation.
Typically, the final weekend of the exhibition season features about a 50-50 split of games played in traditional spring training venues and games played at sites outside Florida and Arizona. I propose a one-time unique form of baseball outreach for 2017, where all teams play outside Florida and Arizona on the final Friday and Saturday of spring training. March 31-April 1 of 2017 assuming the scheduling model remains as is would be those dates. NO games are played April 2 and it is likely six teams will have a regular season opener that Sunday if MLB finds that the 2016 triple header is a big success. So here is my proposal.
First, the traditional games, Dodgers v Angels, Giants V Athletics which have been made a bit less meaningful with interleague play, would still be scheduled as Wednesday and Thursday exhibitions, one at each ballpark.
The following matchups would all take place Friday March 31 and Saturday April 1, 2017. The Padres top two minor league clubs are in El Paso and San Antonio, while the Dodgers used to be a long time San Antonio affiliate. So the dodgers and Padres would face one another, Friday in San Antonio at the Alamodome, Saturday at El Paso. The Rangers and Astros would also face one another going in the opposite direction, Friday at El Paso and Saturday in the San Antonio Alamodome, as they did in 2014. Houston also played an El Paso exhibition against the Brewers in 1997.
The marlins and Rays would play a pair of games at the 55,000 seat stadium in Havana, Cuba, while another international matchup would take place in Montreal as the Blue jays play another pair of games, this time the opposition would be the New York Yankees. Keeping with the international theme of the moment, the Diamondbacks would face the Angels for two games at Monterey, Mexico. Other matchups, the Giants would face the Mariners for a pair of games in Sacramento, while the Rockies and Athletics play at Salt Lake City. The Nationals and Orioles would meet in Norfolk, the Pirates and Phillies at Redding, Pennsylvania and the Cardinals would meet the Royals in Springfield, Missouri. Indianapolis would get two games between the White Sox and Cubs, The Reds and Indians would play in Louisville, while the Braves would face the Twins in Charlotte. The new ballpark in Hartford, Connecticut though not affiliated with either of these teams would play host to a matchup between the Red sox and Mets, and Toledo Ohio would be host to the matchup between the Brewers and Tigers.
A while back I wrote about how other sports leagues after mergers had to decide which rules to play under. The ABA/NBA merger in 1976 took away the 3 point shot from the four ABA teams that had used it in their former league. It would be just three seasons until the NBA adopted the rule for the 1979-80 season. Similarly, the AFL teams once legally merged into the NFL in 1970 had to take away 2 point conversions after touchdowns out of the playbook, until the NFL brought the play back for the 1994 season.
Now, let’s look at how other sports teams are structured and use that as a way to debunk the argument that it is better to have a less skilled pitcher as a batsman rather than a skilled hitter at the dish. IN early football it was more common for players to take the field both on offense and defense. Today in some very small high schools with limited roster sizes, you may still see a few players take the field on both sides of the ball, but a majority of players are going to play only with the offensive or defensive unit. Could you imagine asking Aaron Rodgers or tom Brady to play defense just because that was how old school football was played? How about asking star defensive cornerbacks to come in and play quarterback. Sure this happens on rare occasions with players moving off a natural position in football, where a receiver or running back plays QB in a wild cat formation, but that is about as common as a pitcher coming in to pinch run for a slow base runner who would then be replaced by the appropriate defensive player when the team went back into the field next half inning.
IN hockey and soccer, the goal tender is never used as an offensive player and all that is contributed from that position is the start of a break out the other direction via a long outlet pass to a skilled position player. In basketball, the point guard would never be expected to be a leading rebounder and the center would never be expected to lead the team in assists. So why then do baseball purists insist that watching a pitcher swing the bat is somehow enjoyable baseball?
I used to be among those who believed that the DH took away a degree of strategy from the game, that it was too easy to just leave the starting pitcher in the game since he would not take a turn at bat. But I now view this differently, because having the pitcher bat could be an easy excuse to use as a deciding factor on when to pull your ace while down a run in the 6th inning or later for a better hitter. In the DH world, you truly have to evaluate when your guy has begun to tire or be figured out by the opposition as he goes through the lineup for the third or fourth time and decide when you then put in that relief specialist. Managers today often go to the bullpen to maximize a winning opportunity based on hitter and pitcher matchups, so why not allow the manager to place a 9th skilled hitter into the lineup against a difficult opponent?
As I have noted before, most modern pitchers do not learn to hit if they have always been a career pitcher since high school. Even those who played a position and converted later when in college or the minor leagues often did so because they were viewed as more capable on the mound than in the batter’s box. IN the minor leagues below double A, pitchers never bat and in double and triple A, pitchers only bat if the game is contested by a pair of NL affiliates. Even when an NL affiliate is at home against an AL affiliate, the DH is still used, thus these pitchers have very limited batting experience as professionals. It would be like asking the quarterback to suddenly double as a kicker or defensive safety with very limited training or experience. In other words, given the practices of professional baseball today, such expectations on pitchers being able to take what would even be considered a quality turn at bat in the majors can only be described as asinine.
If you ever here the reason for not making a change in your business practice that goes like this, “we have always done it this way because it is our tradition”, then you should already have your BS detector raised to the maximum. For centuries, women had no voting or property rights and this was even true for more than half of this nation’s history. Only in the last century have our modern democracies encouraged literacy for all citizens. Many arguments against changing things, interracial marriage, same sex marriage are all steeped in some form of religious and political tradition. Baseball has many rich traditions but how many famous plays, important games, hall of fame worthy moments are tied to a contribution with a pitcher at bat? Can you name one? I’m waiting. Sure it is cool when a pitcher comes up and jacks one out of the park, but how many of those hits decided a critical game, much less a post season game and I’m talking any type of a hit by a pitcher at bat, not just homers.
To underscore the point, during the history of the league championship series, only three pitchers have homered for the winning team at any point during the series and one of those was Mike Cuellar for the Orioles in 1970 before the AL brought the DH into existence. The other two, Don Gullett for the Reds in 1975 and Jeff Suppan for the Cardinals in 2006. How many world Series winners have had a pitcher go deep during any point of the series, not many. That list features only 8 names, Jim Bagby of the 1920 Indians, Jesse Haines with the 1926 Cardinals, Bucky Walters of the 1940 Reds, Bob Gibson with the 1967 Cardinals, Mickey Lolich with the 1968 Tigers, Dave McNally with the 1970 Orioles, Ken Holtzman of the 1974 Athletics and Joe Blanton with the 2008 Phillies. IN fact, no pitcher homered in any post season game from 1976 through 2005. The best baseball played is when the best pitchers face the best hitters with capable defensive players in the field, so why not have a universal DH?
Modern baseball is starting to evolve in a way that also would debunk the argument that says, the DH is not contributing to the team as a defensive player. Some teams now are using the DH as a way to rest another wise capable defensive player from time to time. So as more and more teams want to focus on having a versatile roster of players who have high defensive value, from time to time one of those players may need a day off from play in the field, but they would still be capable of swinging the bat for four or five turns during a particular game at DH. Finally, give me Edgar Martinez any day over Randy Johnson as a hitter, give me David Ortiz over Pedro Martinez and give me Jeff Bagwell in 2005 instead of any Astro pitcher during that World Series when the Astros were still an NL team. Oddly, had Houston been an AL team, Bagwell might have been able to continue as a hitter who would have been limited to DH only.
A universal DH brings about other potential implications for the good of the game. While this piece won’t be an extensive overview of potential realignment, another topic I have written about before, clearly having one unified Major League Baseball playing under unified rules makes for a more seamless transition from one division to another. When the Brewers went from the AL to the NL in 1998, they had a team that was built with a DH in mind and on the roster under contract, with only the 1997-98 offseason to adjust. When Houston needed to transition from NL to AL, the franchise had a year notice and could begin planning accordingly, even before the 2012-13 offseason arrived. Such a unified system would allow for more geographic realignment which would make it possible to create new divisions and organize franchises in ways that would in some ways remind fans of the reported but never considered radicle realignment detailed in media reports in August 1997.
IN closing, MLB needs to deal with this situation once and for all. You never saw the AFC playing under different rules from the NFC after the 1970 NFL merger. Baseball I have argued needs to settle on one common rule, DH or no DH for all teams. My vote clearly has evolved, as I now think given today’s game structure, the universal adoption of the DH is the only proper way to go. The only time we should ever see another pitcher at bat, is if the existing DH gets put into the field as a defensive player.