If It’s March, There Must Be Baseball…

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………

11 thoughts on “If It’s March, There Must Be Baseball…”

  1. I live in St. Petersburg and I will tell you that the problem is not St. Petersburg. The problems revolve around three things in the overall Tampa Bay area. Lack of major corporations. Lack of public transportation. A service economy which produces mostly low paying jobs. You can move the team to Tampa but none of that is going to change. For those reasons, major league baseball will probably never be a huge success attendance wise. Ask Miami how their multi million dollar shrine to the owner has worked out!

    1. david:

      Your onsite analysis of the economic situation in the Tampa/St. Pete area is obviously more cogent than any I could provide. The fact is that the Rays do not draw fans proportional to the performance of the team. When the attendance after a year when the Rays were in the World Series cannot approach 25,000 per game, there is something fundamentally wrong. It would seem from afar that the Rays’ ownership thinks a downtown Tampa venue would resolve some of the attendance problems; they have pushed for such a thing for more than a while now. If your analysis is correct, there is no solution to the attendance problem that will be solved by a venue change. Now, if that is the case, perhaps the Rays will someday move elsewhere

      Your point about the new stadium in Miami is spot-on. The luster wore off that bauble pretty quickly…

  2. Before the Chase Utley rule there was the Buster Posey rule, for the same player safety reason. I realize there are those who will harrumph about the interference with tradition, but really between the neighborhood rule (de facto, it’s not in the rule book) and the rule that a runner who is out cannot interfere with the play there shouldn’t be this debate. It’s about the late-night ESPN optics as the shortstop gets cartwheeled and spiked.

    Then again, look how long it has taken baseball to go back to the rule book strike zone which didn’t really happen until umpires were evaluated independently last year.

    Off topic, but still worthwhile: I see Peyton Manning’s agent is floating the idea of Peyton playing next year. I thought Peyton had more class than Favre, for one, and more importantly he is one hit away from being a paraplegic given the type of injury he’s had. It is every player’s dream to go out on top, so Peyton needs to say it’s time to stop.

    1. Rugger9:

      I agree that the “late-night ESPN optics” are important here.

      I also think that it is time for Peyton Manning to hang ’em up. Not because it is cool to “go out on top” – although it is – but because he is almost a caricature of his former self. However, if someone is willing to pay him tens of millions of dollars to play another year and he chooses to take the risk of permanent injury …

  3. Two topics in my reply –

    Interesting that the baseball gods have now legitimized the fact that it was never necessary to have one’s foot on second when turning the double play – doesn’t the new rule say that “we know our officials are cheating a bit, but now they can’t?”

    Second – Perhaps Curmudgeon has included in his rant the most significant non-sequitur ever – referencing Dwight Perry’s mentioning of Kanye West and “tune” in the same sentence?

    1. Gary:

      1. Indeed, the new rule acknowledges that “baseball tradition” was in violation of “baseball rules” for all these years.

      2. You know well that I am abjectly ignorant of popular music and/or musicians. To my knowledge, I have never heard – or heard of – any song or purported song performed by Kanye West. (By the way, are he and Oliver North related in some way?) I will leave all musical reviews and critiques to you…

      1. You are not and have never been ignorant about anything…I choose to consider you selective in the intrusions you’ll permit to pierce your idyllic world. Of course, as to Springsteen and Steely Dan…you’re wrong on those.

  4. Downtown Tampa will not happen because Vinik (Lightning owner) owns all the available downtown property and he has said that baseball in Tampa bay is a losing proposition. Having said that, some group of stupid politicians will build Sternberg a stadium because they want to be know as the group that saved baseball in Tampa Bay.

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