SAUNDERS: Baseball purists should beware radical rule changes in Atlantic League

The Denver Post (TNS)
  • The Atlantic League is instituting a number of radical rule changes in 2019.
  • MLB plans to study the results and consider what they could mean for the future.
  • The changes could someday spread to the majors.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Baseball purists beware!

Radical change is coming to the independent Atlantic League and it could someday spread to the majors.

In case you missed it — and if you’re a real baseball fan there’s no way you could have — the experiment in the Atlantic League is drastic. Major League Baseball, which has partnered with ALPB, plans to study the results and consider what they could mean for the future.

The changes: In a nutshell, the Atlantic League, which includes the York Revolution, will implement the following this summer:

►The home plate umpire will be assisted in calling balls and strikes by a TrackMan radar tracking system. In other words, robot umps.

►No mound visits will be permitted by players or coaches other than for pitching changes or medical issues.

►Pitchers must face a minimum of three batters, or reach the end of an inning before they exit the game, unless the pitcher becomes injured.

►The size of first, second and third base will be increased from 15 inches square to 18 inches square.

►Two infielders must be on each side of the second-base bag when the pitch is released, with the penalty being that the pitch is called a ball. Basically, the rule kills The Shift.

►The time between innings and pitching changes will be reduced from 2 minutes, 5 second to 1:45.

►The distance from the pitching rubber to home plate will be extended 24 inches, in the second half of the season only. In other words, the standard, iconic 60 feet, 6 inches that’s been in place since 1893 would be altered by 2 feet.

Concerns and objections: Aside from reducing game time between innings, I have questions and concerns about all of the changes, and I have a strong objection to outlawing the shift.

The idea of banning basic strategy from the game just doesn’t sit well with me. If power-hitting, left-handed pull hitters are shut down because of the shift, then maybe the solution is for them to learn to lay a bunt down the third baseline. That would shake up the shift in a jiffy.

Most of all, however, I abhor the idea of changing the pitching distance from the rubber to home plate.

I understand that MLB is concerned about the rising number of strikeouts. As pitchers throw harder, fastballs blaze hotter and batters swing for the fences more, Ks have risen at an alarming rate. It can make for a boring game.

But that doesn’t mean baseball should mess with 60 feet, 6 inches.

One of the great things about baseball has always been its perfect dimensions and in-game calibrations. The bang-bang double play and the nip-and-tuck play at second base on a steal attempt are part of the game’s beauty. I fear that changing the distance from the the rubber to home plate would mess with it.

What’s more, baseball wants faster games, but moving back the rubber could lead to a dramatic increase in offense via more hits, walks and home runs. Hence, longer games.

Pitchers would have to dramatically tweak their breaking balls and off-speed pitches to make keep them effective. Fastballs would lose effectiveness.

If MLB ever does alter the pitching distance that’s been in place for 126 years, we might as well tear up baseball’s record book because comparisons between Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan and some future Cy Young winner would become null and void.

Robot umps? Maybe, if the system is perfected. No mound consultations? I could live with that. Banning the shift? Please no.

Moving back the rubber? Absolutely not. I mean, why not just introduce aluminum bats to the majors?