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Rob Manfred: we must “manage change” as baseball evolves

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Commissioner Rob Manfred wrote a guest column at ESPN today. It can be seen as something of a followup to his recent comments in response to Buster Olney’s recent column about potential ways to “fix” baseball, complete with some radical rules changes, most of which were pretty dumb.

Manfred speaks broadly and contextualizes all of that, noting the difficult balance he and the rest of baseball has in making sure that one of baseball’s biggest attractions — its devotion to history and tradition — does not cause it to fail to address potential problems or fail to innovate when innovation is a good idea. I’d agree that’s the biggest and toughest job any commissioner has and likely always has been. On that score, I don’t have any disagreement with him.

Nor do I have any disagreement on the more specific matters he brings up regarding pace of play, pitcher usage and the lack of contact and action in today’s game. He’s right that it’s frustrating to see the best pitchers less, to see more strikeouts and fewer balls in play and for games to be longer now than they used to be. He’s also right that this is not the result of some “problem” with baseball as opposed to the choices front offices and managers have made which have led to this state of affairs. That the winning strategies these folks have identified don’t necessarily coincide with the most entertaining product on the field possible is a cause for concern, even if it’s understandable. Manfred says that it’s his job to “manage change” as baseball evolves. I don’t disagree.

The devil, of course, is in the details of how that change is managed. Sometimes baseball gets that right and sometimes baseball gets that wrong. The wild card, interleague play and many of baseball’s media and technological innovations have been excellent. The implementation of instant replay, on the other hand, has been clunky and ill-conceived, even if the idea of replay is a good one. Every situation is different and every decision baseball makes as it manages change could be a good one or a bad one. It’s our job as fans and the job of my counterparts in the media and myself to critique the way baseball manages change. We should be fair and we should keep an open mind as we do so, but we should not hesitate to be loud and, if need be, sharp in our criticisms when they’re warranted.

Which hasn’t always been easy when baseball has “managed change” in the past. Mostly because Major League Baseball hasn’t always been transparent or publicly accountable when changes are made. Obviously the game is a private business, not the government, and isn’t required to hold public hearings, but its method of announcing rules changes in the past has been annoying to say the least. Baseball has a habit of acting as if there is 100% consensus on any given change and acting as if addressing criticisms of the new rules is an unnecessary bother. I’m put in mind of a Joe Torre press conference when the replay challenge system was announced. There were lots of questions about why it, and not some fifth umpire scenario was chosen. Torre’s answer repeatedly asserted, erroneously, that “everyone agreed” it was the best, though he couldn’t or would’t, exactly, say why that was. We still don’t know what that was, actually. Sorry, if you’re going to “manage change” you have to do better than that. Especially when it comes to major change.

If you’re not going to do that you had, at the very least, best get used to baseball fans and a baseball media that sharply questions and sharply criticizes the change you manage. Baseball hasn’t always been great at that either, probably because baseball fans and most baseball media pull their punches and no one holds baseball’s feet to the fire. We should be better about that. Especially if the change Manfred intends to manage is significant.

Cardinals beat Brewers, both clinch postseason berths

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
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ST. LOUIS (AP) Harrison Bader tripled and homered to help the St. Louis Cardinals clinch a postseason berth on the final day of the regular season with a 5-2 win over Milwaukee, and the Brewers also earned a playoff spot Sunday via help on the West Coast moments later.

St. Louis (30-28) will be the fifth seed in the NL and open a three-game wild-card series at San Diego on Wednesday. By winning, the Cardinals avoided having to travel to Detroit for two makeup games Monday. St. Louis finished the regular season with 23 games in 18 days as it made up a slew of postponements caused by a coronavirus outbreak in the clubhouse.

“You had to throw some of the expectations out the window not knowing what to expect after taking those couple weeks off and all those doubleheaders and so many new guys,” Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt said. “It was very different, very fulfilling to make the playoffs.”

The Brewers (29-31) locked up the eighth seed and a third consecutive postseason berth after the Padres beat San Francisco 5-4 in a game that ended about 15 minutes after St. Louis’ victory. The Giants finished with an identical record as the Brewers but lost out on a tiebreaker due to an inferior intradivision record.

“It’s fitting for 2020 and everything we went through,” Brewers left fielder Christian Yelich said. “It felt just as good as past years. This year’s a unique one. There’s so many challenges we had to go through on a daily basis behind the scenes, things you don’t deal with in a normal year.”

Milwaukee will face the top-seeded Dodgers in Los Angeles in a three-game series that also starts Wednesday.

The Brewers haven’t had a winning record at any point this season. Milwaukee and Houston will be the first teams ever to qualify for the playoffs with a losing mark.

“It’s a celebration,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “We’re in the playoffs. That’s how you see it. There’s no reason to apologize for getting into the playoffs.”

Cardinals starter Austin Gomber allowed one run, one hit and two walks and struck out three over four innings.

Giovanny Gallegos (2-0), Genesis Cabrera and Alex Reyes combined to pitch the final five innings. Reyes got his first save.

“We’d have been happy getting in as the eight seed,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “We’d have been happy being the one seed, but people can say we got in if there was no expanded playoffs so that’s even another feather in this group’s cap.”

Brett Anderson (4-4) surrendered a triple to Bader and a walk to Tyler O'Neill to start the third inning before departing with a blister on his left index finger. Anderson opened the season on the injured list with a blister on the same finger and did not make his debut until Aug. 3.

Freddy Peralta replaced him a day after being activated from the paternity list, and O’Neill promptly stole second. Kolten Wong then hit a line drive off Peralta’s leg that Peralta threw into right field to score Bader and O’Neill.

Paul Goldschmidt and Paul DeJong each added RBI singles to push the St. Louis lead to 4-0.

After Milwaukee scored in the top of the fifth, Bader hit his fifth home run of the season.

“That was a big counterpunch,” Shildt said of Bader. “Got them on their heels again.”

THREE TIMES THE FUN

Yadier Molina grounded into a triple play in the eighth inning when he hit a one hop grounder to Jace Peterson at third base in the eighth inning. It was Milwaukee’s first triple play since Sept. 23, 2016, when Cincinnati’s Joey Votto lined out to first base. Molina was also the last Cardinals player to hit into a triple play when he grounded out to third base at Boston on Aug. 15, 2017.

TRAINING ROOM

Brewers: Counsell said it was too early to prognosticate Anderson’s status after departing with the blister.

Cardinals: St. Louis president of baseball operations John Mozeliak announced that RHP Dakota Hudson will have Tommy John surgery on his right elbow Monday. Hudson went 3-2 with a 2.77 ERA in eight starts before leaving his start on Sept. 17 at Pittsburgh with right elbow discomfort after two innings.

UP NEXT

Brewers: The Brewers head to Los Angeles and will likely be without two of their top starters in Anderson and Corbin Burnes, who sustained a left oblique injury on Thursday.

Cardinals: This will be the fourth postseason series between St. Louis and San Diego, who faced each other in 1996, 2005, and 2006 in the Division Series.