Baseball* is back*.
It could be more fun than ever.
The beginning of the Twins’ not-really-spring training this week signals an attempt at a return to normalcy. If executed intelligently and graced with luck, baseball could provide an experimental and nontraditional season that could be loads more fun than the usual 162-game slog.
The NFL has proved that the way to the heart of the American sports fan is fewer, more high-impact games. Baseball is about to provide about six high-impact games per week while tinkering with rules changes that could make the game better in the future.
Universal DH? I understand the traditionalist view that pitchers batting creates more strategy and intrigue. I’ve just never agreed with it.
As someone who watched Paul Molitor hit .341 and Jim Thome hit the plaza, I prefer watching hitters who can actually hit.
Currently, the only decent argument for a pitcher batting is that fast outs can make games move more quickly. I’d prefer to achieve that effect with umpires, real or robotic, calling a rule book strike zone.
Expanded rosters? The modern shift toward pitching specialization has robbed the game of position-playing specialization and late-inning strategy. With a 30-man roster and a three-man taxi squad, baseball will begin its season with the ability to carry a third catcher, a pinch hitter and a pinch runner.
Imagine the Twins’ championship teams without Randy Bush on the bench, awaiting a key at-bat. Imagine the 2004 playoffs without Dave Roberts pinch-running and stealing that base in Game 4. Late-inning substitutions should again become an important part of the game.
A 60-game regular season? I know, I know, baseball is supposed to be a marathon, not a sprint. But who would you rather watch — Usain Bolt or ... what’s the name of the world’s best marathoner?
What I love about baseball is that it is there for you almost every day for almost nine months, from the beginning of the spring schedule through the last out of the World Series.
But it’s not like baseball provides nine months of quality. It provides lousy spring training games, and almost every team in baseball history has played like amateurs for a month or two of the schedule. A long season guarantees and excuses lapses. A short schedule will reward excellence and punish slumps.
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli isn’t going to give away a game in the first week of the season to protect an arm or test a reliever. He’s going to manage to win every game from Day 1. That will be refreshing.
A runner on second base in extra innings? Back when baseball games might finish in 2 hours and 10 minutes, extra innings were a gift. Now, with most games lasting three hours or more, extra innings are a curse.
Yes, put a runner on second and let’s make something happen right away.
The three-batter minimum for a pitcher? Long overdue. A pitcher who can’t handle facing three batters shouldn’t be in the big leagues, and fewer mid-inning pitching changes would be welcome.
No spitting, or pitchers licking fingers? Thank you, baseball. Spitting is disgusting and ballplayers spitting long ago became parodies of themselves.
Games without fans? Everyone will miss the buzz of the crowd, but we will not miss everyone in the crowd.
The guy who thinks he’s being clever by yelling at the umps? The people behind home plate taking selfies or talking on the phone? At the end of a summer during which tens of thousands of Americans are dying, maybe a quiet, businesslike ballpark is appropriate.
Older coaches being excused from play? The Twins have told two of their veteran coaches, Bob McClure and Bill Evers, to stay away from the ballpark to protect their health. I hope other teams follow suit, including the Astros. Houston hired Dusty Baker, 71, to manage its scandal-ridden team. The cheatingest team in ball should not be allowed to endanger the health of one of baseball’s great people.
This will be a season unlike any other. That just might be a good thing.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org