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The Off-Season:  The Stalemate Continues

The Off-Season: The Stalemate Continues

by Tim Kabel

March 10, 2022


If I’m not working, I don’t know what to do. – Paul Lynde

How do we pass our time, when America’s Pastime is shut down? The Major League Baseball lockout began on December 1st. It is now March 9th. The lockout is a tedious and lonely place. It is a stagnant swamp of stale speculation and repeated hopes and whispers that it will soon be over.

Yesterday, Major League Baseball Commissioner, Rob Manfred, announced the cancellation of two additional regular season series after collective bargaining talks fell apart once again. The earliest that opening day will occur is now April 14th. We are going nowhere fast. Each day, we sink a little deeper into the swamp.

However, there have been some negotiations and some steps toward an agreement. I would like to discuss one of those.

The Major League Baseball Players’ Association has agreed to rules changes starting in 2023 that would allow MLB to ban defensive shifts, implement a pitch clock, and enlarge the bases. We can discuss the pitch clock and the bigger bases another time. For today, I wish to address the idea of banning the shift.

First, in the words of noted baseball fan, Richard M, Nixon, let me make this perfectly clear: I despise the shift. I can’t stand watching games when the shift is implemented. I would rather be locked in a closet and forced to listen to Fran Drescher read Les Misérables in her voice from The Nanny uninterrupted, than see the shift. I would rather take a tour across the Southwestern United States in August, in an unairconditioned bus full of eating contest participants, stopping at every major chili cook-off, than watch games with the shift. I understand completely why teams use it. It’s simple; it works. However, it’s like a farmer using paraquat. Not only does it kill the bugs but, it also kills everything else, too.

So, since I hate the shift, I must be in favor of banning it, correct? The answer is no. The idea of banning the shift makes no sense to me. It’s like banning interrupting in a presidential debate, or eye rolling in a room full of adolescents. How exactly do you enforce such a thing? I imagine teams would have to adhere to a certain defensive alignment. However, I believe what would happen would be reminiscent of when I taught my younger son to swim. I would stand a few feet away from the ladder in the pool, and he would be on top of the ladder. He would look at me and say, “a little bit further.” I would take a few steps back. He would then say, “a little bit further.” I would take a few more steps back. Eventually, he would say, “one more further.” Then, with great fanfare, he would jump into the water and splash his way over to me. I suspect infielders would begin play at the farthest limits of the acceptable positioning. Then, they would go a step or two farther, and after that, another step or two, Eventually, things would revert to the way they were, a full shift: “one more further.” Another possibility would be sort of a fluid shift. The players would be in their appropriate positions but, as the pitcher started his wind-up, they would rush to their shift positions. It would be as if a production of Swan Lake was occurring in the middle of the game. I imagine certain managers are already devising plans to get around this so-called ban of the shift.

As stated above, I can’t stand the shift. I just don’t think legislating it out of the game is the way to get rid of it. The shift will become extinct the same way that everything else has. When it is no longer useful, it will no longer be used. 150 years ago, using a horse in some fashion was the most common form of transportation. Now, horseback riding is recreational or therapeutic. We all love to take buggy rides when we go to Pennsylvania Dutch country. However, it is not what is used for transportation now by most people. In the 1950s, many major cookbooks featured recipes for cooking bear meat. Try to find one today.

The way to get rid of the shift Is for hitters to make it obsolete. I realize that is easier said than done. But it can be done. Batters need to work to become more versatile. They must learn how to hit to the opposite field. The most successful hitters always did and still do. If a batter hits against the shift often enough, the other team will use it less frequently. Eventually, he could resume pulling the ball. The smart and efficient batters will learn to do both. If enough batters did this, the shift would eventually fade away.

I understand the desire to ban the shift. I just don’t think it’s practical. The way to eliminate it, is to create a situation where it doesn’t work. If it’s not effective, it won’t be used. There may be some hitters who just won’t be able to hit against the shift. That is okay. It is to be expected. However, I think most hitters could do it with some level of success.

Regardless of whether we think banning the shift is a good idea, the fact that it was agreed upon after being discussed, is extremely positive news. Hopefully, this continues and very soon, baseball will be back to work.


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