Craig Calcaterra

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There could be a regular season game in London in 2017


Back in November British news outlets were reporting that Major League Baseball was in negotiations to play a game in London. The league didn’t say much about it then, but Rob Manfred said something about it yesterday.

Specifically, he said the league is looking to play its first regular-season games in London in 2017 and that they’re “working hard on that one.” He said it would be a midseason game, not an opener like they’ve played in Japan and Australia in the past due to the March and April weather in London.

This is the part that has me thinking the most:

“We haven’t really settled on teams, and I don’t want to speculate about that,” he said. “Obviously, we want to make as good a first impression in Europe as we possibly can.”

The NFL has had a habit of sending some pretty garbage teams over to London for its games lately. I suppose this means that we’re not going to get the Rockies and the Braves in jolly old England then. Thank God.

MLB is considering raising the bottom of the strike zone

Oakland Athletics' Billy Butler, right, has words with home plate umpire Tim Welke after striking out looking against the Houston Astros in the third inning of a baseball game Wednesday, April 15, 2015, in Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
Associated Press

In the same interviews Rob Manfred gave about the DH yesterday he talked about another possible change on the horizon: the strike zone. Specifically, shrinking it a tiny bit by raising the bottom of the strike zone from the hollow beneath the kneecap back to the top of the kneecap where it was prior to the 1996 season.

Manfred said Major League Baseball is studying the matter, and the article notes that any change would have to be the subject of collective bargaining, meaning that if a change is made it wouldn’t be implemented until 2017.

It doesn’t seem like a big change. Take a look at your knees for a minute, note that your kneecap isn’t that darn big and then ask yourself how precise umpires are, especially at the bottom of the zone, which is often where the worst calls come. On the other hand, think of all of the various changes that have happened to the context of baseball over the years, from strike zone changes to ball composition to balk rules to the height of pitchers mounds and recall that what often seem like minor alterations in baseball’s context often lead to fairly dramatic changes in offensive levels.

Either way, there is considerable evidence that, separate and apart from the 1996 rule change, the strike zone has been creeping ever-downward and that batters are now being forced to chase pitches far, far lower than they ever did lest they be caught looking at a strike. Adjusting that to some degree, in this age of pitching dominance and more strikeouts than there has ever been in the game, is probably a good idea.

Spare me: Major League Baseball does not care about the differences between the leagues

Opening Day

In the story about Rob Manfred saying that the DH will stay out of the National League “for the foreseeable future,” the Commissioner said that the DH is “the single most important feature that defines the differences between the two leagues.” In a second interview on the subject yesterday he reiterated “I think it serves an important purpose in terms of defining the difference between the American League and the National League, and that league definition is important to us from a competitive perspective.”

Setting aside the merits of the designated hitter for a moment, let us ask ourselves: since when did Major League Baseball give a rip about the “differences between the American and National League?” Indeed, the past 20-25 years or so has seen nothing but the wholesale elimination of the differences between the AL and the NL. In fact, apart from the DH, there are almost no significant differences between the leagues anymore.

There used to be significant differences between the AL and the NL, of course. Most obvious being their schedules, with American League and National League teams not playing one another until the World Series each year. Many people thought this “served an important purpose in terms of defining the difference between the American League and the National League” and that it was “important from a competitive perspective,” but Major League Baseball chucked the idea because they saw a way to make some money with interleague play.

The AL and the NL likewise used to have separate league offices with separate crews of umpires, separate disciplinary regimes and separate league presidents overseeing things. Given that the differing implementation of rules and context led, inevitably, to different styles of play, having separate administrative structures “served an important purpose in terms of defining the difference between the American League and the National League” and was “important from a competitive perspective,” but Major League Baseball eliminated all of those distinctions in order to gain administrative efficiencies.

By virtue of the lack of interleague play, league allegiances used to matter to fans, but twice in recent history Major League Baseball has simply changed a team from one league to another, putting the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League and the Houston Astros in the American League. The matchups and rivalries two entire cities knew and loved — and the fans in cities whose teams the Astros and Brewers played knew and loved — “served an important purpose in terms of defining the difference between the American League and the National League” and were “important from a competitive perspective,” but Major League Baseball changed that to make expansion, scheduling, and travel easier.

Lest you think I am complaining here, please know that I am fully aware that there were and continue to be pros and cons for every single one of those moves. Efficiency does matter. Making more money is an important goal of owners and players alike. Even though we all have our own opinions on the DH, I would hope that no matter what any one of us thinks, we can acknowledge that there are pros and cons to each side of that argument too.

But let us not for one minute pretend that, at the end of the day, “the difference between the American League and the National League” is an end that Major League Baseball has ever cared about in and of itself. It’s never been cited as an ultimate reason for change or a reason against change outside of DH arguments. And let us not pretend that what is “important from a competitive perspective” is ruling here because, again, no matter what you think of the DH, you must admit that having it in one league and not the other while playing an interleague schedule interspersed with league games all season long creates distinct competitive problem in terms of roster construction and the like.

I do not know why, exactly, Manfred and the “vast majority” of NL owners do not want the DH in their league. Maybe they truly are all a bunch of unabashed sentimentalists who want nothing more than to preserve grand traditions. Maybe this has nothing to do with NL owners not wanting to pay an additional position player and has nothing to do with posturing against the union in the runup to Collective Bargaining Agreement talks. Maybe this a case of the billionaire class of baseball owners simply being whimsical old saps for bygone a day when pitchers batted in every single game.

But I doubt it. Because in every single way that is important apart from the DH, they have sought to standardize Major League Baseball and erase the distinctions between the leagues in all but name over the past two decades. That they implemented, with single votes, rules which eliminated a century of real differences between the leagues but now stand firm at a difference that has existed for 43 years requires more in the way of explanation than a mere wave at tradition in my mind. Maybe these sharp businessmen who have always made decisions which maximize efficiency and standardization should state their real reason for not taking that course here. Because I’m not buying it.