Raze the neighborhood; take out the takeout

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Baseball was never meant to be a game of contact.
Sure, we all know how Ty Cobb went into second base spikes high, but we wouldn’t tolerate those attempts to injure players today. So why do we allow the forearm shiver or the barrel roll?
Those ridiculous slides into second base are the reason we have the neighborhood play, a big topic of controversy since Erick Aybar wasn’t given credit for straddling the bag on what would have been a double play Saturday night. It was obvious the umpire got the call right in saying Aybar never touched the base. The problem is that Aybar would have gotten that out call 95 percent of the time. Inconsistency is the major issue, of course, and Jerry Layne picked a big moment to start enforcing the rules.
So, will we see any changes in the future because of Saturday’s events? It’s safe to assume the majority of major league umps saw that call last night and might be more prone to making it in the future. It’ll certainly take several more instances of seeing it happen for infielders to start changing the way they position themselves at the bag. Odds are that it will be mostly business as usual, and that’s too bad, because MLB could use a change.
The neighborhood play exists because it’s dangerous standing on top of a base when a runner is set to do everything possible to prevent a relay throw. Far too dangerous. Middle infielders need protection, especially second basemen, who can’t see the runner coming from first. That double play turn is, in my opinion, the biggest reason why second basemen tend to have short careers.
So, it’s either keep the neighborhood play or rein in the baserunners. I prefer the latter option. Baseball was not a sport designed for collisions. Accidents will happen, but MLB can further discourage contact if it wishes. First, enforce the rule that says runners are called out if they don’t slide towards the bag. Most runners these days won’t even reach out towards the bag to even give the impression that they’re trying to touch second base when their legs are five feet off to the right. Call it.
Furthermore, the intentional overslide of the bag, an even more dangerous play, has to stop. Melky Cabrera performed just a modest overslide on Aybar, yet the shortstop still ended up taking a forearm to the thigh and a helmet to the groin. We see far worse every day, and there’s just no reason for it.
If a player intentionally overslides the bag, he should be called out. If he pulls off the Orlando Cabrera “slide into the bag, pop up and try to forearm the shortstop in the face” maneuver, he should be ejected.
Force the shortstop and second baseman to touch the bag, but make it safe for them to do so. It should be easy enough to pull off.

The Chicago Cubs: Spring training games, regular season prices

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Craig Calcaterra
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MESA, AZ — I’ve been covering spring training for eight years, and in just those eight years a lot has changed in the Cactus and Grapefruit League experiences. The parks are bigger and fancier and the vibe is far more akin to a regular season major league one than the intimate and laid back atmosphere most people think of when they picture February and March baseball.

Just imagine, however, how much has changed if you’ve been coming to Florida or Arizona for a really long time.

“When we first started coming, you could bring your own beer in,” says Don Harper, a lifelong Cubs fan from Kennewick, Washington who spends his winters in Arizona. “You couldn’t bring a cooler, but you could bring a case of beer and a bag of ice and you just set it down in between you and you just put the ice on it and keep it cold.”

I asked Don if the beer vendors complained.

“They didn’t sell beer,” he said.

That was three decades and two ballparks ago. They certainly sell beer at the Cubs’ gleaming new facility, Sloan Park. Cups of the stuff cost more than a couple of cases did back when Don first started coming to spring training.

The price of beer is not the only thing that has changed, of course. The price of tickets is not what it used to be either. Don told me that when he started coming to Cubs spring training games tickets ran about seven dollars. If that. It’s a bit pricer now. Face value for a single lawn ticket, where you’ll be sitting on a blanker on the outfield berm — can be as high as $47 depending on the day of the week and the opponent. Infield box seats run as high as $85.

The thing is, though, you’re not getting face value seats for Cubs spring training games. Half of the home games sold out within a week of tickets going on sale in January. Since then just about every other game has sold out or soon will. That will force you to get tickets on the secondary market. According to TickPick, the average — average! — Cubs spring training ticket on the secondary market is $106.30. For a single ticket. It’s easily the highest price for spring training tickets in all of baseball, and is $26 higher than secondary market tickets for the next highest team, the Red Sox:

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That may be shocking or even appalling to some, but as the automatic sellouts at Sloan Park and those high secondary market prices suggest, there are at least 15,000 people or so for each Cubs home game who don’t seem to mind. Supply meet demand meet the defending World Series champions.

I spoke with two younger Cubs fans, Corey Hayden and Eleanor Meloul, who traveled here from Salt Lake City. On Sunday they lucked out and got a couple of lawn seats for $28. On Saturday, however, they paid $100 a piece on StubHub to get some seats just beyond third base. I asked them if there is some price point that would keep them from coming.

“There isn’t one,” Hayden said. “I paid $4,500 for a World Series ticket, so . . .”

Don Harper wouldn’t do that, but he doesn’t really mind the higher prices he’s paying for his spring tickets. Of course, he’s a longtime season ticket holder so he gets access to the face value seats. I asked him whether his spring training habit would end if those prices got jacked up higher, as the market would seem to bear, or if he had to resort to the secondary market.

Don paused and sighed, suggesting it was a tough question. As he considered it, I put a hard number on it, asking him if he’d still go if he had to pay $50 per ticket. “Yeah, probably,” he said. “$75?” I asked. He paused again.

“As long as I got enough money.”

Don is a diehard who, one senses, will always find a way to make it work. Corey spent a wad of cash on that once-in-a-lifetime World Series ticket, but he and Eleanor seem content to bargain hunt for the most part and splurge strategically. If you’re a Cubs fan — and if you’re not rich — that’s what you’ll have to do. The ticket it just too hot.

Mets leaning on Jay Bruce, Neil Walker as Lucas Duda insurance

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 12:  Pinch hitter Lucas Duda #21 of the New York Mets walks back to the dugout after striking out for the first out of the ninth inning against Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  The Dodgers won 5-0.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
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The Mets have begun working outfielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Neil Walker at first base as potential insurance in the event Lucas Duda continues to experience back discomfort, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. Duda has been sidelined recently due to back spasms and missed all but 47 games last season as a result of a stress fracture in his lower back.

Manager Terry Collins spoke about Bruce’s work at first base on Sunday, saying, “I liked everything I saw today. “It looks like he’s got the athleticism, he’s got the hands, he’s got the arm angle. He made some throws in our drills that you wouldn’t expect an outfielder to be able to make, but yet he does. If that’s where we have to go, I think we’ll be fine.”

Bruce has only three games’ worth of experience at first base at the major league level, but still has high expectations for himself. He said, “I am going to work at it. I want to give myself a chance and the team a chance. I am not going to go over there and be a butcher. It’s just not the way I go about my business on the baseball field and it wouldn’t be fair to the team if I wasn’t capable to do it, so I am going to work at it and we’ll see what happens.”

The Mets made Bruce available via trade over the offseason but didn’t get an offer that whet their appetite. As a result, Michael Conforto appears to be the odd man out in the Mets’ crowded outfield.