Over the past few years — and I am very much included in this — baseball fans have complained about how frequently aspects of the game are being changed. Purists don’t want to see their sacred sport change in any way, but edits like the three-batters-per-reliever rule, the universal Designated Hitter rule and the change of the physical makeup of the baseball have all seriously irked many spectators and MLB personnel.
In addition to being a baseball fan, I also follow professional League of Legends (LoL). Due to its nature, it receives automatic updates every few weeks, which can drastically change how the game is played. Teams are expected to simply adapt each time, as it is part of the competitiveness of the esport.
One thing that baseball has that LoL does not is a lengthy history. While the League esports scene has existed for more than a decade, some form of professional baseball has existed for more than a century. Because of this, many purists want to preserve the same rules and regulations for the sake of comparison. While this makes sense in theory, a few looks at the history of baseball can debunk this.
Even if one chooses to use a timeframe beginning at 1920, which baseball experts refer to as the beginning of the “live-ball” era, many changes have occurred over that span that have made it very illogical to compare a 1920s baseball player to a 2020s baseball player. Whether you choose the fact that Black athletes were not allowed in MLB until 1947, the slew of technological advances (such as Tommy John surgery, a procedure that has reinvented how pitchers can play the game) that have changed many facets of play or any other reason, the bottom line is that there isn’t a very sound argument for why baseball shouldn’t be changed.
Back to League, the general strategies employed in competition are referred to as the META, (most effective tactic available) and this shifts dramatically depending on the changes included by the developers. Coaching staffs work hard to find what works best for the current moment, and baseball has something comparable. The current era of baseball minds have adopted a very analytical approach to looking at the game, and this should be necessary for a game that changes. Tactics like the shift and telling hitters to play more for what have been referred to as the “three true outcomes” (home run, strikeout or walk) rather than putting the ball in play are two consequences of analytical baseball.
Whether one refers to esports or to the modern interpretation of traditional sports, we have entered an era where recurring changes to competition are healthy for the growth of a sport. As much as they may annoy the old guard because the game might not look like it did 50 years ago, there should be a responsibility for those in control of the game to keep the game fresh and balanced, just as there should be a responsibility for coaches and players to find the best way to adapt to changes thrown at them. It adds another element to the competition, but it should be a welcome element.
However, there is one caveat: the aforementioned changing of the baseball’s makeup was not done with transparency, and that is not a healthy way to change the game. In League, every time an update is made, the developers release detailed notes on what the changes do. While MLB most likely would not opt for this exact format, it’s imperative that in order to create a system where healthy changes can be made, some in-depth explanation should be given.