MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred believes his sport has a shift problem and that it must be addressed with a heavy hand. Jayson Stark of The Athletic reports Manfred is gaining support from the competition committee to do something drastic — either eliminating or limiting how often creative defensive alignments can be employed. This is in stark contrast to a USA Today poll in June that revealed 54 out of 62 players queried opposed the idea.
Any change would have to clear the players union. It is not hyperbole to say that this is the last line of defense for preserving an important part of baseball’s ethos: the embrace of strategy and the built-in governor of the countermove.
Are shifts hurting baseball? Yes. Offenses have been slow and stubborn. The proliferation of extreme velocity has made that adjustment harder. But legislating from the bench is antithetical to what makes the sport great. Handcuffing defenses for being smart is the coward’s way out. Baseball and those who love it enjoy beating chests about how cerebral and complex the chess match can be.
This would torpedo that sense of pride.
The ecosystem changes. New ideas enter and adaptation occurs. Manfred and those interested in the bottom line should not play God. They should let the game work it out. This is the way things have been done for 170 years.
Sure, there have been changes. But this one would be monumental and in the interest of dollar signs. More importantly, it’s using a machete to swat a mosquito. Of all the challenges facing MLB, three players on one side of the infield is not near the top. Why alter the DNA to treat a sinus infection?
There is hope for those resistant to the overhaul. Despite the news that making the shift illegal is gaining steam, it’s interesting to see how many more players are willing to go on the record saying it shouldn’t happen.
Killing the shift would kill something more important. The sooner this movement dies from lack of support, the better. Here’s hoping saner, less reactionary heads prevail.