Recently there was talk from Rob Manfred and his media surrogates about how baseball should be worried about all of the defensive shifts and that, maybe, they should change the rules of baseball in order to outlaw them. Most of this talk is underscored with either an implicit or explicit concern about shifting being radical or different or that it somehow makes baseball a different game than it had always been. Perhaps, an unfair game to some hitters.
Others point out that shifting is, actually, not something new. Shifts may be employed at an unprecedented rate these days, but the concept of moving guys around on the field is not novel. The most famous example cited in this argument is Ted Williams, who was famously shifted upon by Lou Boudreau’s Cleveland Indians. Today an anonymous tipster hipped me to another victim of out-of-position infielders:Willie McCovey.
We have video! It comes in the course of the1969 Giants season retrospective below. That was the year McCovey hit 45 homers, drove in 126 and posted an OPS+ of 209, winning the MVP Award. The whole thing is interesting as a time capsule or, if you’re a Giants fan, as a history lesson. If you just want to watch the part about the shift, however, go to the 7:30 mark or so. Here’s a link to that point.
My favorite part of the video: when the narrator says “How do you beat a shift?” And then specifically says NOTHING about outlawing shifts. How novel.