That Rob Manfred is even thinking of it should give pause to any baseball fan, or at least one who considers themselves traditionalists.
There’s no such thing as perfection, and certainly baseball is not without flaws. However, use of a defensive shift isn’t one of them. Manfred, who succeeded Bud Selig as commissioner, in an effort to increase scoring is contemplating outlawing defensive shifts.
Baseball defenses have implemented shifts for years, dating back to Ted Williams if not before. Williams was good enough, and smart enough, to beat the shift.
Many of today’s players are not. Many frustrated by the shift have complained and privately lobbied to outlaw it. If Manfred manages to do this he would be rewarding players for incompetence and not being able to do their job.
Run production has gradually declined in recent years and a knee-jerk reaction has it being attributable to an increase in shifts. Funny, but did anybody connected with Major League Baseball ever think that might be because of a decline in steroid usage?
Of course, this logic would be an admission of the steroid era, one of the black marks of Selig’s tenure.
How many runs do shifts take away is debatable, but I’m willing to bet offenses are more stagnant because too many hitters simply don’t know how to hit. They are too preoccupied with pulling the ball and not using the entire field; they aren’t interested in working the count and drawing walks to increase their on-base percentage; and perhaps above all, they are enamored with the home run and don’t care about strikeouts.
So, what’s next if shifts are outlawed? Could baseball legislate what pitches must be thrown on specific counts? Or, how about telling outfielders how deep they can play, or ban corner infielders from guarding the lines late in the game? What about giving a hitter four strikes instead of three?
There are so many things Major League Baseball could do if it wants to improve the product on the field, but banning shifts is not one of them.
All too often, the stewards of the sport remind me of a man who can’t resist poking the coals of a barbeque to fan the flames. It’s really a great sport, with its biggest problem all those trying to needlessly trying to “improve’’ it.