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Baseball Needs to Go…..Back, Back, Back!

Updated: Jun 26, 2020

By Mike Toth Baseball is hard.

As the old adage goes, it's the only game where you fail seven out of ten times and can still make the Hall of Fame. But while baseball is definitely difficult, it can also be tough to love at times. Already beset by a history of crippling labour problems, the embarrassing war between MLB owners and players was one of the most sickening aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

You'd think baseball would be smart enough to learn from its past. The 70's, for example, were a colorful decade that boasted star-studded squads such as the three-peat champion Oakland A's. The A's featured a quirky cast of characters with creative nicknames such as "Blue Moon", "Campy" and "Catfish"; and when the A's weren't crushing their opponents, they kept busy beating up each other. Oakland slugger Reggie Jackson was awarded MVP honors following the 1973 World Series. But the A's fiery shortstop, Bert Campaneris, believed he was more deserving of the trophy. So, at the team's victory party, "Campy" went after Reggie with a butter knife. Fortunately, Jackson survived being mistaken for a crusty roll and went on to become "Mr. October", winning two more World Series crowns in '77 and '78 with the New York Yankees - another super team of the 70's.

During the pandemic, my two baseball-loving sons and I watched a bunch of World Series contests from the salad days of the 70's and came up with a list of takeaways we believe could make today's brand of baseball even better.

1.)Put the Ball Back in Play

Unlike the current power-crazed "Home Run or Strikeout" MLB style, the baseball was constantly moving around the diamond of the 70's. Besides Nolan Ryan and his freakish fastball most old school pitchers threw in the 80-85 MPH range, meaning the ball was in play much more than it is now. That gave players a chance to showcase the defensive side of their game and even offensive juggernauts could catch the baseball. Oakland's Jackson, for instance, had a rough day at the plate in game one of the '73 World Series but he still made two outstanding outfield plays to help the A's edge the New York Mets in a 2-1 nailbiter.

So, how to bring well-rounded baseball back to MLB?

I'd lower, or even eliminate, the pitcher's mound, move the mound back to 65 feet, and actually deaden the baseball. The game is much more than "Hit it out or Strikeout", something that seems to be lost on a power-hungry generation of "Chicks Dig the Long Ball" fans.

2.)Stick the Shift

Defensive shifts in baseball aren't a completely new piece of strategy. Back in the 1940's, "The Ted Williams Shift" was put into practice. Everybody but the bat boy and the ballpark organist lined up on the right side of the diamond in an attempt to take away "The Splendid Splinter's" left-handed meal ticket. 

But these days, the shift has really hit the fan(s). It seems every second hitter comes to the plate needing a bazooka to blast the ball through the mass of humanity assembled in his power alley. In the 70's, it was a much different story. For the most part, glove men had to rely on either great athleticism or intelligent positioning to get the defensive job done. Cincinnati Reds all-star shortstop Dave Concepcion, for example, could dance to his left or right with ballet-like dexterity. Oakland second baseman Dick Green, on the other hand, was a master at reading his catcher's signals and the opposing hitter's body position to move into the perfect spot before the pitch was even thrown. Both styles were highly effective and much more entertaining than watching a modern hitter ground the ball into another yawn-inducing defensive shift.

In my books, the solution is pretty simple. 

Outlaw the shift and install a travel ban on fielders that forces them to wear their gloves and stay at home.

3.)No Cameras Allowed

It's one of the curses of today's pro sports picture.

A controversial play occurs and right away the action grinds to a boring halt as officials say "Let's go to the video". The proliferation of video review also takes away what used to be one of the best parts of going to a baseball game - the old-fashioned umpire versus manager brouhaha. (There's a word you don't see often enough!) 

In game two of the '73 World Series, Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson was called out on a close play at home plate. The only problem is that, 47 years later, Oakland catcher Ray Fosse still hasn't tagged him. Instant replay on the NBC telecast clearly showed Harrelson was safe. Thankfully though, there was no official video review back then and the missed call created some highly entertaining drama. At one point the legendary Willie Mays of the Mets, channelling his inner Willie Shakespeare, literally got down on his knees to plead (his) Bud's case. Meanwhile, Mets manager Yogi Berra, another Hall-of- Famer, came hopping out of the dugout to accost the beleaguered ump. 

Can you imagine that conversation?

Berra was famous for his "Yogi-isms" ("It ain't over 'till it's over!", etc.) and after listening to old Yogi argue, the poor ump was probably even more confused than when he blew the call in the first place.

But what's the obsession with the perfect call?

In Little League, dealing with brutal calls is part of the game. It teaches young players to cope with adversity instead of blaming everybody else for their problems. But in pro sports, big bucks rule. We have to get every call exactly right so the gamblers don't go broke and video-assisted champions can sell their "We the Champs!" t-shirts and have yet another excuse to hike ticket prices. But if I was Commissioner, say goodbye to video review; and if you don't like it you can kick dirt on my shoes - which most fans want to see anyway.

So, there you have it. A few old-time ideas that I'd love MLB to bring back. 

As I said off the top, baseball is hard.

But it shouldn't be that tough to dip into the past to make a great game even greater.

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