Some simple proposals to fix baseball

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Baseball rule book.jpgWashington Post columnist Thomas Boswell
is a big fan of the new committee tasked with looking at rules changes,
pace of game issues and the like.  In fact, he’s so enthusiastic he
offers a dozen or so of his own suggestions, most of which are aimed at
speeding up the game.  On the whole I like his proposals, but let’s
take them one at a time because lunch isn’t ready just yet:

Changing the rules so a pitcher would have to face at least two batters:
Worst idea first. I’m all for reducing La Russa-style hyper-specialized
bullpen use because it sucks, but I don’t think changing a fairly
fundamental part of the game — the manager’s ability to change
pitchers — is the way to do it. Sometimes it does make sense
to bring in a lefty killer to get that one killer lefty out. It just
doesn’t make sense to do this twice a game, every game.  I think
education and a p.r. initiative is a better bet than a rule change here.

Ban mound visits: Boswell suggests “miking up” the pitcher and
the coaches. That’s kind of silly if you ask me, but there are a lot of
meetings out there. I’d say (a) count a visit from the pitching coach
in the manager-must-change-the-pitcher-if-he-visits-twice rule; and (b)

(note: coach visits are already counted; my bad) find a way to crack down on catcher-pitcher mound meetings.  A football
team doesn’t get extra time outs if the quarterback and the receivers
can’t get on the same page, and pitchers and catchers who can’t get
their stuff together shouldn’t get to stop the game either.

Putting a clock on mid-inning pitching changes: Fine with me.

Canning “God Bless America”: Ditto. I’ll take my daily does of nationalism at the beginning of the ballgame, thank you very much.

Waving the hitter to first on an intentional walk: I’m good with
this too. Other than tradition, I don’t see the utility in making the
pitcher throw four pitches. If we need something ceremonial to signal
an IBB, how about some sort of cap-off bow by the pitcher to the
batter? In addition to it having something of a reverent, Asian-flair,
it might also lead to fewer IBBs on account of pride and ego and
whatnot.

No home field advantage to the All-Star Game winner: Amen, amen
a thousand times amen. I like Boswell’s specific reasoning here too:
the current rule, in addition to being dumb, has the effect of
exacerbating the imbalance between the leagues.

No November games: He’s right about this, but on an abstract
level I do kind of like there being one less baseball-free month on the
calendar. Boswell’s suggestions: no WBC-induced delay, schedule some
more doubleheaders, fewer days off in the postseason all make perfect
sense, and if the La Russa committee doesn’t spit those suggestions out
after their first meeting they’re not worth the conference room in
which they caucus.

Replay: Boswell assumes that there won’t be expanded replay in
the regular season, though we may see it in the postseason. I’d be fine
with this. I’d be much finer with the idea I floated a couple of months
ago: simply station an extra ump in the booth with replay equipment.
Make sure he watches the game closely. Rather than dealing with
challenges and official reviews and everything, simply give him the
booth guy the power to call down to the crew chief when they mess up
something really bad, keeping the discretion in-house with the umpires,
but just giving them another set of eyes.

I’m sure I could go on and on about this stuff. I’m sure you could too. Thoughts, in the comments, are appreciated.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.