Change in Baseball: As Certain as ‘Death and Taxes’

Most recently, we discussed team injuries and the correlation or lack thereof with those teams in making the playoffs. As an understatement of the year, the 2016 Los Angeles Dodgers have accepted their circumstances and excelled in terms of managing their multitude of injuries in a push towards the post season. Change and adaptation to say the least has been their mission.

“When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”

-Benjamin Franklin

In “Injuries and the Postseason Go Together Like Success and Motivation,” we also wrote that “the Los Angeles Dodgers constant moves between the disabled list, minor league transactions, and their use of the bullpen” should be considered in light of Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred’s comments about limiting defensive shifts and bullpen usage.  Again, that change and adaptation thing.

“Adaptability is about the powerful difference between adapting to cope and adapting to win.”

-Max McKeown

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In a January 25, 2016 article by ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick entitled “Q&A: Rob Manfred reflects on his 1-year anniversary as MLB commissioner,” here is what Crasnick asked Manfred and how Manfred responded to making changes:

Crasnick: “Last year, as you were about to take over as commissioner, you created a stir when you engaged in a dialogue about eliminating defensive shifts, and some media outlets went to town on that.”

Manfred: “It’s the damnedest thing. I made the same mistake on Day 1 and my first anniversary. When I talked about the defensive shifts, I let myself get into a situation where I speculated about a change I wasn’t serious about. I made the same mistake this time when I went back and forth on the pros and cons of the DH issue rather than saying what I’ve said all along — that I think we’re status quo on the DH, because it is the single most important feature that defines the differences between the two leagues. I let myself get into the back and forth and the pros and cons, and that’s always a mistake with the press.”

However, more recently, and as the new 2017—collective bargaining process continues towards the goal of signing a fair deal for both sides, the plot has thickened because Manfred has shown a continued willingness to change the game for the betterment of the viewers and the players. Specifically, Manfred has shown an interest, however slight or strong, depending on who you speak with, in speeding up the pace and inducing the action of the game of baseball through pitching clocks, expanding the strike zone, limiting defensive shifts and bullpen usage.  During the August 18, 2016 presentation to Major League Baseball Owners, from “Limits on defensive shifts? Pitch clocks? MLB pondering radical changes” by the Associated Press, Manfred said the following:

“Sometimes baseball fans think about what should happen with the game sort of with an artificial construct, that the choice is between preserving ‘The Game,’ as it came down originally from the mountain, and making some changes to that game. The point of the conversation today was that the game has changed dramatically. It’s changed organically.”

The reasoning for the changes or the call/discussion for possible changes? Manfred and other baseball executives have cited the increased length of baseball games, less action in the game (e.g., more boringness), and less offense (again, more boringness). Of course, for many baseball fans, players, coaches, and others, “more boringness” is the natural progression of the game and is not boring at all, but still the beautiful game it was and still is today. However, the instituted and institutionalized changes through Major League Baseball are something  different and something to watch closely.

If interested, you can read more about the possible changes, here and here.

Nevertheless, change is inevitable and with the Major League Baseball Players Association and Major League Baseball in labor peace, the time may be ripe for change in the next CBA. In his Inc. article from February 24, 2014, entitled “11 Powerful Quotes to Inspire Your Team to Embrace Change Change is good,” CEO and author Dave Kerpen writes regarding change: “It’s also often hard. But to succeed in business, you must run toward it.”

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What does all of this change mean for the 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers and other organizations that have embraced analytics and creative ways to win ballgames?  The Dodgers front office has clearly utilized defensive shifts and their bullpen this year. It could spell disaster, or again more change.

“A wise man adapts himself to circumstances, as water shapes itself to the vessel that contains it.”

-Chinese Proverb

To put this in perspective, consider that the Dodgers are among the League leaders in transactions, bullpen usage (although across multiple arms because of the high level of transactions, e.g., bringing up new pitchers from the minors, etc.), and the use of defensive shifts. The Dodgers have thrived under this model and Andrew Friedman’s leadership proven through their winning record and National West Division titles. The team also has the financial might to take risks (it takes money to make money and all that). The Dodgers also have one of the best defenses in baseball at least partially to do with defensive shifting and the use of “Lasers in the Outfield.”  Maybe a new movie in the making?

We need to watch closely for institutionalized versus natural changes in the game as we see the game move more towards a foul, clock, and ‘official review’ based baseball game, more like basketball, hockey, football, soccer, and every other sporting event not named baseball. No knock on those sports, they are beautiful too, but differently beautiful. Remember, America’s past time is special because it is about time and timelessness, runs, not points, inches, and the natural evolution of its participants and their personalities. The possible changes to time, strategy, and the flow of the game seem to hit at the heart of what makes baseball great for traditionalists, while making a push for a better time-manageable-style baseball game. The question becomes, do we want or need that style of change in baseball?

Change?  As Brad Pitt once said in the movie Meet Joe Black, “Death and Taxes?”  Yes, change is certain as death and taxes. Hopefully, the changes will be good for the game.

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Jeremy Evans

Jeremy M. Evans is the Founder & Managing Attorney at California Sports Lawyer®, representing entertainment, media, and sports clientele. Evans is an award-winning attorney and industry leader based in Los Angeles.

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