Last week, MLB announced two rule changes for this year. The first is destined to be known as the “Chase Utley Rule” because it requires runners going from first base to second base to go directly toward the bag. Last year, Utley made a perfectly legal play according to baseball rules and history and it resulted in the Mets losing their shortstop to a knee injury. The new rule clearly is motivated by player safety and it provides a measure of protection for defensive players who now have the opportunity to get out of the way of an oncoming runner because they know where he will be sliding.
The other rule change also affects play around second base in potential double play situations. For years, baseball has had the “neighborhood play”; the umpire would call a player out on an attempted double play if the defender at second base had the ball while his foot was “somewhere in the neighborhood” of the bag. The player did not need to have the ball in his glove and have his foot on the bag simultaneously in order to get the runner called out. Starting next year, the umpires are supposed to ignore the “neighborhood play” and make the call at second base the way it would be called at first base.
I am in favor of both rule changes/adaptations; let me make that clear. At the same time, might I point out that eliminating the “neighborhood play” AND requiring the base runner to go directly to the bag at second base is a recipe for more collisions at second base? Moreover, injuries due to collisions are directly proportional to the number of collisions; ergo…
Former Nats’ shortstop, Ian Desmond finally found a home in MLB. He sat out all of the free agent season without a satisfactory offer but finally signed on with the Texas Rangers to play left field for them until Josh Hamilton is recovered from his injury – presumably sometime in May. Desmond signed a 1-year deal for $8M; in his career he has played the outfield exactly once. This may seem like a strange signing for the Rangers but I think it is a good one. Let me explain.
Ian Desmond is only 30 years old; there are still miles on those tires.
Desmond had a terrible year in 2015 at shortstop for the Nats where he led the NL in errors (27) and only hit .233.
However, his career batting average is .264; his career OBP is .312 and his career OPS is .736. for his career he has averaged 19 HRs and 75 RBIs per season.
As a career infielder, Desmond can provide the Rangers with competency as a utility infielder at shortstop or second base in addition to playing the outfield. More importantly, he is a baseball player; he plays the game with focus and intensity and he plays the game properly. An $8M salary for a year is something I would fondly wish for; in this case, I think the Rangers got themselves a good deal.
Steve Rosenbloom of the Chicago Tribune demonstrated last week that he is already in mid-season form with this “analysis” of a comment made by Adam Eaton as the White Sox became immersed in Spring Training:
“Adam Eaton said the White Sox are beginning a ‘ in which they do the ‘little things’’ better. Quick someone tell Eaton that hitting the ball and catching the ball are not little things.”
Meanwhile, in St. Petersburg, FL, the Mayor and the head of the Chamber of Commerce announced the creation of a 30-person team whose purpose is to convince the Tampa Bay Rays to stay in St. Petersburg because that is the best place for them to play ball and flourish. The team/committee/whatever is called Baseball Forever.
The reason these civic leaders need to go to the trouble of forming this committee is that the St. Petersburg City Council recently agreed to some sort of deal with the Rays that would allow the Rays to check out possible alternative stadium sites in Pinellas County (containing St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Dunedin and Tarpon Springs) and in Hillsborough County (containing Tampa, Brandon and a place named Fort Lonesome). The Rays have expressed a desire to move to an in-town stadium in Tampa; they now have permission to see if they can make a deal to make that happen.
The launch for the Baseball Forever effort was held at a sports bar adjacent to Tropicana field where the Rays now play their home games. The committee has 30 members and the crowd in attendance was about 200 folks. Therein lies the problem the good folks of St. Petersburg must overcome. If each of the 30 members of Baseball Forever had 2 people with him/her, that would be about half of the crowd in attendance. Let me summarize the reason that the Rays want to move from St. Petersburg in the first place very succinctly:
Attendance at home games stinks.
For the 6 seasons from 2008 through 2013, the Rays were contenders for the playoffs or they were in the playoffs or they were in the World Series. In that run, attendance peaked in 2009 at 1.875M folks; the Rays averaged 23,148 fans per game in their best year of attendance. In 2014 and 2015, the Rays were not serious playoff contenders and here is what happened to their attendance:
2014: Finished 19 games out in the AL East. Attendance was 17,857 per game.
2015: Finished 13 games out in the AL East. Attendance was 15,889 per game.
I am not a civic leader or a business maven or a politico; I do not know what the solution to the problem in St. Petersburg might be. Here is what I know. Unless Baseball Forever can find ways to get more fannies in more seats in Tropicana Field on a consistent basis, that team is going to move some day. The folks who make up Baseball Forever need to realize that baseball will go on – potentially forever – but that does not mean it will have to continue to be in St. Petersburg.
Finally, in keeping with today’s baseball theme, here is an item from a recent column by Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:
“Hip-hop recording artist Kanye West says he’s in debt to the tune of $53 million.
“Moral of the story: It doesn’t pay to keep doubling down on your Cubs bets.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………