Major League Baseball is currently still in a lockout with the MLB Players Association, and the end does not seem to be in sight with the 2022 season looming. There’s no doubt about the fact that this is not good for the league from a financial standpoint, but when it comes to the game itself, there is a conversation to be had.
While much of the lockout negotiations seem to be centered around money, another problem should certainly be addressed – the game needs to be more consistent. According to AP News, “MLB proposed a joint committee, including at least four active players, to discuss potential on-field rule changes.” This seems like a good idea, but it should be expanded to include rules on more than just the field, and once rules are decided on, they should have some security built in.
The biggest problem with baseball as a competitive sport is that MLB, the top-flight professional league in America, does not have a standardized set of rules and regulations. The most glaring issue comes from the differences in the National and American leagues, which each make up half of the MLB. Since 1973, the American League has utilized a designated hitter position, so that pitchers do not have to hit in the lineup, while the National League has only ever used a designated hitter during the 2020 COVID-19-shortened season. After omitting the 20 interleague games each team played in 2021, that’s 142 games where the two leagues were essentially playing with different rules. Once the World Series comes along, it’s always awkward to watch teams have to adjust to different strategies and ways of playing, and it’s especially weird to watch these growing pains happen as teams are on the precipice of winning the championship.
Disparities between the leagues is far from the only standardization problem MLB has. On Nov. 30, 2021, Bradford William Davis of Business Insider reported that MLB used two different types of balls during the past season. This news came after they had admitted in years prior to experimenting year-to-year with balls that would fly either further or shorter. Whether the change in the makeup of the game ball occurred during the season or between seasons is irrelevant, as that major of a modification without transparency about it destroys any hope of integrity from the MLB. In the National Football League, the New England Patriots were harangued for deflating footballs in the hopes of making them easier to catch, with quarterback Tom Brady receiving a suspension for a quarter of the next season. In baseball, the league did essentially the same thing that the Patriots did but on a larger scale and received no consequences at all.
The last issue to cover is the changing of rules back and forth that MLB has engaged in during the past few years. Whether it’s adding automatic runners to extra innings in an effort to speed up games, the inclusion of a pitch clock or the three-batter rule for relief pitchers, the game is being experimented with in real time, and that shouldn’t be what the MLB is for.
At the end of the day, in order to create a product where players and fans alike can feel they are experiencing baseball in its purest form, more factors need to be held constant. Rules for positions and lineups need to be the same across all 30 teams. The league needs to be absolutely transparent about the makeup of the game ball, and not change it once it has been set, at the very least for the season. Rules need to be kept if they are made, and they need to make sense not just from an entertainment perspective but from a competitive one as well.
Experimenting with the rules and regulations of baseball is fine. It’s a game that’s been around for over a century, and it’s understandable that things would need to be modernized. However, rule changes or manipulation of the game equipment needs to begin at the top level of play. There are already examples of experimental rules being implemented first in the minor leagues or independent baseball leagues, so that they can be tested. Only once these tests have proven that these changes could benefit the league should implementation into the majors be allowed.
Going back to the lockout, as the 2022 season is supposed to kick off in less than three weeks and no deal has been reached yet, it’s likely that the season will see a significant delay. Maybe, just maybe, this could be a productive delay. If the two sides can have some meaningful conversations about how to improve the competitiveness and consistency of the sport, alongside equally important labor disputes, perhaps this lockout could provide a healthy reset for America’s favorite pastime.