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Major League Baseball may have made a huge mistake

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Yesterday I wrote about the rules changes announced for Minor League Baseball. Specifically, the alteration of the pitch clock and, more significantly, the rule in which all extra innings games will begin with a runner on second base.

While limited to the minor leagues in 2018, Major League Baseball has made no secret of the fact that it views the minors as a lab in which to experiment with such things. Pitch clocks generally worked in the minors and now Rob Manfred is poised to put them in the majors next season. If the man-on-second rule works — however one defines “works” — it may very well be on its way to the majors sometime soon.

I gave my take on the man-on-second rule yesterday: it seems unnecessary and will lead to almost every extra inning starting with a bunt followed by an intentional walk, which is nothing anyone wants to see. That aside, I find it more of an eye-rolling thing than a source of outrage. For the precise reason it is unnecessary (i.e. there aren’t that many extra innings games) is the reason I won’t get too worked up about it.

Based on the feedback I’ve gotten in the past 24 hours, however, I feel like I am in the distinct minority in this view. People are angry. Very angry, and I feel like the anger is such that Major League Baseball will be pressured to rethink the rule sooner or later.

To be sure, there is a subset of fans who will complain about any rule change as if it’s the end of the world. I’m not talking about the major ones. Yes, people are still angry about the DH 45 years later, but that was big. I’m talking about the ones who are set off by even minor changes. The takeout slide rule. Batting helmets on base coaches. The new intentional walk rule. Everyone has opinions about these at first, but some people get super mad. For the most part, though, a few months later, no one really cares anymore. The game is the game and it can stand minor alterations.

The response to the runner-on-second rule strikes me as different, though. People are legitimately upset. A lot of people, not just the usual whiny subset. I’m basing this on the comments I’m seeing here on the blog, over at my public Facebook page, on social media, and questions I’m getting from casual fans who normally wouldn’t care. People feel like the man-on-second rule is a bridge too far. That it crosses some line that previous rules changes haven’t in that it fundamentally alters the way the game is played rather than changes the context in which it is played in minor ways.

I am still, personally, inclined to think it’s not a major thing, even if I don’t care for it. At least for now, as it’s limited to the minors. Maybe I’ll feel differently about it if and when a game I care about is decided in this rather silly fashion, but I’m not yet prepared to storm the battlements over it.

Beyond the jaded types like me, however, I suspect Major League Baseball has stirred up a hornets nest. The fans who are aware of the rule change one day in are pissed about it and the more fans learn about it — maybe on their first trip to a minor league game this year, maybe while hearing about it during a big league broadcast — more will be pissed. In this I think the fallout from this rule, if it is pursued beyond the experimental stage, will be greater than the usual sorts of rules changes that come along every year or two.

Yes, all of this is still in the hunch stage, but my hunches about such matters are usually pretty good. If I had to place a bet, I’d bet that baseball backs off the man-on-second rule pretty quickly because fans utterly hate it. Or will.

Former Mets minor leaguer describes organization as ‘toxic’

New York Mets
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The Mets were one of many teams to recently release a slate of minor leaguers. Teams normally cut players at the end of spring training, but since baseball was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, that was pushed back a bit. Teams are also facing worse economic conditions as a result of not playing games. Along with MLB’s desire to reduce the number of minor league teams — which, thanks in part to the virus, it will get — seeing a bunch of minor leaguers released from their contracts was an inevitability.

One of the minor leaguers the Mets released was pitcher Andrew Church. The right-hander was selected by the Mets in the second round of the 2013 draft. He made it to Triple-A at the end of the 2016 season and would spend parts of the ensuring three seasons there while also battling injuries.

Now out of his contract, Church made an Instagram post in which he criticized the Mets’ organization, suggesting that they exposed him to high injury risk and continued to make him pitch through injury. He described the organization as “toxic.” The full post, including additional words he posted as a comment on his post:

Please read to understand my true feelings.
Today I got released by the NY Mets organization. The people on the other end of the phone had nothing but good things to say and I appreciated that very much. Anyone that has seen me play and compete knows that I lay it all on the line no matter what. Every practice, every game. I am a competitor, a true warrior. It’s in my DNA. From the outside looking in, my baseball career probably raises a lot of questions. Why did you retire and come back? How come your numbers aren’t very good if you were that dedicated? I have always kept my opinions to myself out of respect for the organization I signed a contract with. But now that it’s officially over with them I’d like to say some things. One of the main reasons I retired was to keep myself from expressing how I felt. I was bitter, frustrated, and angry at the Mets organization. I felt my competitive nature was being taken advantage of. They knew I would never say no to competing and would fly me around to fill in for anyone that got injured. I realized this wasn’t in my best interest when my delayed flight finally landed in the 3rd inning, and I was on the mound in a AAA baseball game for the first time, without any warm up throws. My UCL originally tore that night. Instead of seeing a doctors like I asked, they sent me back to High A to pitch in the playoffs. When I told them I couldn’t I was made out to be the bad guy. Then the next year, they made a mockery of our team by putting a celebrity on it to sell more tickets. I saw players lose their jobs because of it. We weren’t playing to win, we were playing to make everyone else money. Not the players. We never saw a cut. Well, allegedly that one player did. I think people are starting to understand that more now but they didn’t in 2018 when it was happening again. I was fed up. I spent my whole childhood honing in my passion and anger, to not let it get out of control, but it was and I was going to explode. So I took the opposite direction, I bottled it and silenced myself. I took some time away and cleared my head. Continued in comments..

Baseball has always been the only constant in my life. No matter if I’m active or not I will always play. It’s my release. I asked to be reinstated in 2019, when a new player development regime took over for the Mets. I honestly think they are making strides to be a better organization, but the culture that has been built for decades within that organization is toxic. Filled with snakes and bottom feeders trying to elevate their professional careers at the expense of the players, with no remorse. I hadn’t pitched in a competitive game in over a year, but they needed a filler because someone got hurt the night before. I took a red eye flight, to one stadium, a 7 hour bus trip, another flight, and a taxi to the stadium I would be pitching in. Again I was in a AAA baseball game with no worry about my well being. I lost my drive to perform for an organization who continuously treats us as pawns in their chess games. Especially when the ones doing it, don’t know what it takes to be a baseball player. And some must’ve just forgotten. Ignorance is a scary thing. We see it in mainstream society too often. Ignorance with power and a lack of empathy is, in my eyes, the scariest of all evils. Thank you to all the players and coaches who had the passion and drive to empower each other and push the game forward. Fuck you to everyone who wasn’t. You have no place in professional baseball.
To my future, you all know I can’t stop. And I get scary when I’m motivated. Watch out! CarveNation

The “celebrity” Church alludes to is Tim Tebow. Tebow was a college football star who had a brief and ultimately unsuccessful NFL career that ended after the 2015 season. Despite not having played baseball since his junior year of high school, the Mets signed Tebow to a minor league contract. His debut season in 2017 was as bad as people predicted, as he hit .226 with a .656 in 126 games between Single-A Columbia and High-A St. Lucie. Last year, Tebow was arguably the worst overall player in the minors as he hit .163 with a .495 OPS over 77 games. Despite this, Tebow remained with the Mets, even getting an invitation to spring training ahead of the 2020 season.

As for the injury stuff, it’s shameful that the Mets did that to Church, and he is right to speak out about it. But the Mets are certainly not the only organization that treats its minor leaguers poorly. There are many more Churches out there who have had their careers derailed or ended by organizations that saw them not as people, but as means to an end. This has been reflected in myriad ways, including the insistence on paying them below-poverty wages and skipping out on paying them during a pandemic.

It’s a shame what the Mets made Church go through as he chased his dream. Kudos to him for speaking out. Hopefully Church and the recent wave of releases inspire players to speak out about their poor treatment in the minor leagues.