A new baseball season opens tomorrow. I hope 2023 will give me material to write about and bring this blog back after a prolonged silence. During that time, I began a podcast called “The Baseball Lifer.” A new episode comes out every Frida and you can get it wherever you get podcasts.
I was in despair in December, 2021 with a lockout just begun. I believed baseball’s two bands of feuding idiots were stupid enough to wipe out the entire 2022 season and take baseball down under the weight of their collective foolishness. In March, to my indescribable relief, the lockout ended and a full 162-game season was played.
The game was saved at a cost. 12 teams now make the playoffs instead of a more reasonable 4 or 6. This change made it possible for the Phillies, the 11th-best team in the game to meet the Astros in the World Series. I had hope when the Phillies got out ahead 2 games to 1, but their coach and 4 horses turned into a pumpkin and some white mice and the Astros won the next 3 games handily. Lamentably, I see them in the next World Series even without their diminutive star Jose Altuve, shelved with a broken thumb. I don’t see a team in the west challenging them, and my Yankees’ pitching staff is down to one warm body. His name isn’t Old Hoss Radbourn who was a one-man staff for Providence in 1884, winning 60 games. The Yankees’ one-man staff is Gerrit Cole. Earlier in spring, it looked like pitching would be the Yankees’ long suit. But the pitchers fell like the stock market of 1987: Carlos Rodon, Frankie Montas, Luis Severino, Tommy Kahnle and most recently Clarke Schmidt, all gone until God knows when with arm injuries. Montas and Luis Gil have already been written off for the season following surgery. Domingo German, one of the few pitchers who isn’t known to be injured pitched as if he was hurting all spring.
With Walker Buehler and Gavin Lux shelved for the year and Freddie Freeman hurt at the WBC, the Dodgers are in almost as much trouble as the Yankees. The Padres are more of a threat in their division than any team in the AL East is to the Yankees, assuming the Bronx Bombers don’t beat themselves. The Padres are waiting for Fernando Tatis JR.’s suspension to end on April 20, after which they can evaluate what he has following several surgeries in 2022.
The Mets are depending on a geriatric pair of top starters in Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander. Max spectacularly flamed out in last year’s playoffs giving up 4 bombs to the Padres. Meantime, their closer Edwin Diaz threw away this season and quite possibly his career playing in the WBC. Two of his bull pen comrades, Montes de Oca and Sam Coonrod won’t throw a pitch in anger until after the All-Star break. The Yankees have the overall record for injured men before opening day, at a round dozen while the Marlins and Cardinals each have only 3 men on what should still be called “the disabled list.”
Other than the fate of my Yankees’ pitching staff, there are some positive forces at work that drove me to bring this blog back on line. The pitch clock has been used both at the college level and throughout spring training, and I for one think it’s a great idea. After all, who wants a 4-hour game between the Tigers and the Royals, or the Pirates and anybody? Even a game with a final score of 2 to 1 has gone well past 3 hours in recent years and it’s more than time to change things. Pro basketball has had a clock almost as long as the game has been around, with the colleges adding a clock around 1980. Football has always had a play clock, and delays of game have been dealt with through the years. Pitchers finally have to pitch the ball rather than stand there and wait … and wait … until the fans have changed the channel. Pitching coaches have told me some pitchers delay throwing for fear of what will happen when they throw the pitch. These guys don’t “trust their stuff” in the coaches’ words.
That said, games will still poke along if pitchers can’t get the ball over the plate. I recently listened to a tortuous series of games between UConn and Hawaii when neither side seemed to know where the strike zone was. The games started after 11:30 PM because of the time difference and ended around 4:00 A.M. owing to the pitchers’ collective wildness.
Pitchers can no longer make unlimited attempts to pick runners off base. This should not only speed up the game but increase the running game which has all but disappeared in the last couple of decades. Nobody has stolen 50 or more since 2017 when Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon pulled it off. Hopefully, the steal will be back in 2023 and beyond.
You’ll see your team play more of the other teams in the sport than you have in recent years. Gone are the days of a team playing 19 games against each of its divisional foes. Even Yankees-Red Sox can get boring if you see it 19 times a year. That number has been cut to 13. The rest of the games will be against every other team in the league. Fortunately, handling the logistics is somebody else’s job. So is wondering what will happen if the first 2 games of a series get rained out and it’s the only series the two teams are supposed to play against each other. Will we see games cancelled as we do in the minors when makeup dates are impossible to arrange? Extending the season won’t fly because we’re practically playing on Election Day as it is. I would bring back Sunday doubleheader, but the players’ union will never allow it.
Starting tomorrow, it will all be real, in the words of my first broadcast engineer. Another season will begin. Cook the hot dogs, open up a can of brew and toast the 2023 baseball season.