Major League Baseball’s spring training road trip rules require that, for road games, clubs play “a minimum of four players who were regulars on the previous year’s Major League team or who were platooned on the previous year’s Major League team on a regular basis, or who have a reasonable chance to be regulars on the Major League Club’s squad during the upcoming season.” The regulars are supposed to play “a minimum of three complete innings.”
Clubs are fairly routinely flouting this rule, reports the Fort Myers News-Press, and when they’re not explicitly flouting it they’re doing the bare minimum in terms of putting recognizable names on road rosters. An MLB spokesman tells the paper that many teams have been fined as a result. The fines, one presumes, are not exactly excessive and don’t appear to be changing team behavior all that much.
The reason for the rule is pretty obvious: butts in seats. The home team is probably more responsible for drawing fan interest at any given game, but fans don’t necessarily want to see minor league rosters from the road team. Given how prices of spring training games are escalating — and given how much money local governments are investing in spring training facilities — the mere fact that a baseball game is happening is not enough. They need to be entertaining baseball games with at least some degree of star power from the visiting squad. The reason for teams flouting the rules is pretty obvious too: player health and fatigue is a big thing they worry about, as is the convenience and comfort of star players who aren’t big fans of bus rides.
We’ve written a bit lately about the conflict between the original purposes of spring training — teams getting ready to play in the upcoming season — and what spring training has become: a cash cow and tourist attraction for Major League Baseball as well as communities in Arizona and Florida. This tension isn’t going to dissipate any time soon. Nor are the road rosters full of dogs, at least until MLB finds a more effective way to enforce the rules.