IS BASEBALL CHANGING?

I recently watched Jim Rice, the Red Sox slugger and Hall of Famer turned broadcaster, talking on television. That in itself is not a surprise since NESN, the channel that covers the Sox games, thinks, for some reason, that the more Red Sox players and people affiliated with the Sox they can put on their games, the better they will be.

NESN is not the only channel that has taken this route. ESPN, with its coverage before, during and after games, throws talking head after talking head at you. Someone should tell these people that the quantity of announcers you put on the air is not what makes for good programming. It’s the quality of the people that makes a good show, not the number of people you can put together.

No one is more in awe than I of the ability it takes to make the big leagues and the years of high quality performance it takes to make the Hall of Fame but feeding me a diet of Hall of Famers who have basically the same thing to say night after night just doesn’t cut it after a while.

Am I the only person that turns the volume on NESN off when they bring Alex Speier on to give us the benefit of his supposed expertise for a boring half inning almost every game? Speier, who doesn’t appear to have any baseball experience, other than watching, writing and talking about it, has a statistic for everything. He supposedly has impressive credentials, a graduate of Harvard, member of the staff of and covering the Red Sox for the Globe and Captain of the Debate Team at Harvard but how does that make him interesting to the average viewer. Oh, by the way, he has been with the Globe, which, also by the way, is another of the Red Sox owners’ toys, for only about a year and a half.

I have to admit, I hated to see Don Orsillo go, or perhaps I should say I hated to see the team of Remy and Orsillo broken up, but Dave O’Brien is excellent. I’ll take three hours of O’Brien and Remy or whoever is filling in today and you can have all the pregame and post game coverage, all they tell you are things that you had already gotten from O’Brien and friends during the game.

Anyway, I digress, I was going to get to Jim Rice but got sidetracked on one of my pet peeves. Rice was talking about baseball, naturally, and one thing he said was that the game hasn’t changed, the players have. There is no question that the players have changed over the years. They have gotten bigger, stronger, faster and, perhaps most significantly, richer. So, I agree with at least a part of Rice’s thought.

As far as whether or not the game has changed, I also agree with him to a point. Baseball is still played by nine players at a time, on the same size field, with basically the same rules for over 100 years.

Like everything else in life, though, it’s the little things that count. Major League Baseball still allows each team a roster of 25 players, whoops, there is an exception. If a team is playing a doubleheader, they can add a player to the roster for that day. The size of the roster is still basically the same as it has been for many years. Teams can and always have been able to replace players on that roster as needed so long as the maximum is not exceeded at any time.

However, with the ease of travel today, players on a roster can be changed on a daily basis and teams, like the Red Sox, who have their Minor League affiliates located in close proximity to the parent team can shuffle players like playing cards. In 1975, the Red Sox used a total of 32 players during the season, only 12 of them pitchers. In 2015, they used 51 different players, many of them on different, multiple occasions, and 26 were pitchers. Perhaps you could argue that that’s a change to the players not the game but anyone can see its effect upon the game, for good or bad.

Everyone who reads this column knows that I have been against instant replay since it was first proposed. Who can tell me that the advent of instant replay and its expansion which, believe it or not, is not over yet, has not changed the game? Instead of an often colorful and entertaining argument between players, managers and umpires, we now have Managers asking, politely, for a few minutes to decide whether to ask for a review of a questioned play. Give me Lou Pinella throwing a bat or Billy Martin kicking dirt anytime, I’ll take my chances that any calls that are missed will balance out over time, if you give me them back.

I was doing a book signing at the Kennebunk Library last week and a fan asked me what I thought of the designated hitter rule, should it be eliminated or applied to both leagues. Isn’t that another difference in the way that the game is played? National League teams bunt more than American League teams, 13 of the top 15 teams in numbers of sacrifice bunts are National League teams. 13 of the top 15 teams in issuing intentional bases on balls are National League teams, why, they walk batters to get to the pitcher.

The new rules about collisions at home plate and second base have certainly changed the way the game is played. The rules, which were both enacted in response to single incidents where a player was hurt, have perhaps made it a safer game but have certainly made it a more politically correct game. Can you imagine the trauma to a child if they continued to see players crashing into each other? This in a society where the ultimate violent sport, football, is the most popular.

Yes, I agree with Jim Rice when he says the game hasn’t changed, the players have, but the rules that govern the play of the game have changed and have changed the way the players have to play the game, not always for the better.

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