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Phillips: On long games, trades and the new commissioner

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Steve Phillips
8/15/2014 4:04:12 PM
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TSN Baseball Analyst Steve Phillips answers several questions surrounding the game each week. This week's topics include the after-effects of a 19-inning game, the future of pitchers wearing helmets on the mound, the importance of waivers and the trade deadline, and the election of new commissioner Rob Manfred.

1) The Blue Jays got swept in Seattle immediately following a club record seven-hour, 19-inning game. Do epic affairs like the one between Toronto and Detroit on Sunday take a long-term toll on teams?
 
One thing I know for certain is that not every win or loss is equal. Some wins are more energizing than others while some losses are more devastating. There is no doubt to me that losing a 19-inning game feels like more than a loss, just as winning that game feels like more than a win.
 
Players want to be rewarded with victories for good play. When a game goes 19 innings the likelihood is that both bullpens pitched extremely well and the teams played solid defence. Every extra pitch is an investment physically, mentally and emotionally. Each extra inning take out a chunk of flesh from the team. The deeper the game goes, the more invested the teams are and the more critical it is to win.
 
A 19-inning game taxes the depth of bullpen. It can wipe out the staff for several days or longer. A loss like that to a direct playoff competitor is even more damaging because it is a double loss: a loss for us and a win for them.
 
Coming to the ballpark the day after an extra-inning game like that is a challenge for the loser. Fatigue is an issue but so is the emotional letdown of the loss. The feeling that the hard work and toughness shown the night before just didn't matter is a hurdle to overcome. Veteran leadership and the leadership of the manager and coaches are critical in these games.
 
I always liked when my manager played the toughest lineup in games after a long extra-inning affair. I wanted the grinders in the lineup. I would give up talent for grit in this situation. I also wanted my manager to be extremely aggressive early in the game. Force things to happen. Start runners to stay out of double plays. Steal bases. Attack. Take the extra base. The players to need charge ahead and not dwell on the previous night's disappointment.
 
At the end of every season teams can look back at critical games and see turning points in their season. You don't always know which games are key games until the end. But it is pretty apparent that Sunday's 19-inning win by Toronto could be one of the most critical games of the season. The Blue Jays won, but the victory seemed to come at a cost since it sucked the life out of the team as they headed to Seattle and proceeded to lose three straight.
 
2) Marlins pitcher Dan Jennings got an ugly line drive off the face this week. Does this incident put any extra heat on Major League Baseball to enforce protective headgear on the mound?
 
Earlier this year Major League Baseball approved the use of protective padding in baseball caps for pitchers. The padding is made of "plastic injection molded polymers combined with a foam substrate". The padding disperses and absorbs the energy of a ball's impact. The padding is sewn into a regular baseball cap and it adds a half-inch of thickness to the front of the hat and an inch to the side. It also adds about seven ounces to the weight of the hat.
 
Many pitchers have balked at wearing the hat because of the awkward and uncomfortable feel of the bulkier hat. In fact, to date only one major league pitcher, Alex Torres of the Padres, has worn the hat in a major league game and he was mocked by fans and broadcasters because of how the hat looks.
 
There have now been 13 pitchers hit in the head by line drives in major league games over the last seven seasons. Fortunately no one has died. Remember it took the death of a minor league first base coach to get Major League Baseball to make it mandatory for base coaches to wear helmets. Do we really have to wait for a pitcher to die to make it mandatory for them to wear the protective hats? Are we really that vain that the goofy look of the hat is worth risking a life?
 
It is time for Baseball to make the protective hats mandatory for pitchers. I just hope TSN doesn't make protective headgear mandatory for SportsCentre. I don't want to mess up my hair.
 
3) The Phillies' Cole Hamels and Washington Nationals studs Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg were all claimed on waivers this week as their respective clubs looked to keep their August trade options open. Should the MLB just institute a hard trade deadline at the end of either July or August? Or, do you think the waiver process serves a valuable function in the market?
 
So many people were surprised at the news that Cole Hamels, Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg were placed on waivers. I wasn't. I always ran all of my players through waivers during the month of August just as a practice. It didn't mean that I wanted to trade them necessarily. I would run stars through waivers with players I wanted to trade with the hope of camouflage them so teams wouldn't claim them. I also put players like Hamels, Strasburg and Harper on waivers to see who put claims in on them. You never know what ideas can be generated for off-season considerations by a team or teams making claims on players.
 
I remember discussions at general manager meetings when the trade deadline dates were debated. Some GMs thought the date should be moved earlier while some thought it should be later. This reinforced to me that it was at the right time. I like the idea that every team has an equal opportunity to improve themselves by the non-waiver deadline of July 31. The waiver period allows every team the chance to improve but it gives the teams trailing in the standings a better chance for improvement and an opportunity to block teams ahead of them in the standings from making deals.
 
I know that the second wild card has changed the trade deadline as more teams are buyers than in the past. This year provided one of the most interesting deadlines in the game's history. I don't think the second wild card was added to allow teams to at some point declare they are out of the race at a date later than July 31. It was added to keep interest for more cities deeper in the season. The dates and system still work.
 
I know baseball is slow to change, in so many ways, but this is one thing that I don't want to change.
 
4) Baseball owners have elected a new Commissioner. It is Rob Manfred, formerly the COO of MLB. The selection has been met with little enthusiasm as it is believed that he is part of Bud Selig's old guard and that we will continue to see the same old-school thinking that has chased young fans away from the game.
 
I don't believe that it is true or fair to assume that Manfred will be the same as Selig. I was an assistant minor league director at one point and later became the minor league director. I made significant changes to the way things were done with the Mets farm system. I was the assistant General Manager at one point too and later became the GM. I was dramatically different from my predecessor even though I respected him immensely. Sometimes as an assistant you get the best on-the-job training where you learn what to do but also what not to do. As an assistant there were many times that I thought to myself, "If I am ever in charge I would do this and not that." So let's give Manfred a chance to create his own identity.
 
That being said he can have an instant impact. He needs to address Rule 7.13 about collisions at home plate.
 
I am on the record as saying that I am in favour of the new collision rule at home plate. I think it is the right thing to protect the catchers from devastating collisions when they are in a vulnerable position. I like the idea that catchers can't block the plate without the ball and that base runners can't go out of their way to hit the catchers when they are not in front of home plate.
 
The intent of the rule is fantastic but the enforcement of the rule has been a debacle. On Wednesday we had two plays at the plate in different games in which a runner was tagged out. In both situations the baserunner's manager challenged the call claiming the catcher was blocking the runner's pathway to the plate. The catchers in the two games just about duplicated each other's movements. The challenge in the Giants/White Sox game led to the call being overturned and the Giants being awarded a run. In the Mets/Nationals game the call on the field stood and the Mets did not get a game-tying run. The exact same circumstances led to two different results. That is a problem.
 
The way I see it is that there is an easy solution to the problem. Rule 7.13 states that: Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the Umpire, the catcher, without possession of the ball, blocks the pathway of the runner, the Umpire shall call or signal the runner safe.
 
The ambiguity of what the rule means by "pathway of the runner" is the problem. This is easily resolved however. There needs to be a clear and concise definition of allowable behaviour by a catcher.
 
Here is the solution: A catcher is deemed to be blocking the pathway of the runner if either or both of his feet are in foul territory or on the third baseline. The catcher must keep both feet in fair territory to be deemed not in the pathway of the runner.
 
That's it. It is easy. The gray area that is confusing to umpires is what it means to block the pathway. When it is defined this way everyone knows what to look for and to expect.
 
It shouldn't be this tough. Games have been decided by some of these calls. Games that could impact playoff berths. It has to stop. Clarify the issue now so everyone stops looking foolish.

Come on Mr. Commissioner...FIX IT!

Toronto Blue Jays Celebrate (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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