Does the Integrity of Baseball Still Matter?

What could possibly go wrong on an intentional walk play?

Does the Integrity of Baseball Still Matter?

By Bill McCurdy

How big was the DH in changing the integrity of baseball?

Did the DH change pull the plug on “integrity?” Was that the seminal moment in which baseball decided – either consciously or unsparingly – that our game could live with two similar, but different integrate cultures of the game until such time that MLB either came around in total to the DH, got rid of it, or else, learned to work around this fundamental structural difference in how players may be deployed in the game in each big league?

In 43 years, the AL and NL have simply grown apart because of it, each playing a variation of baseball, but a different game, nevertheless, – with each league now requiring a different plan for personnel needs and game management.

Has the DH altered the integrity of baseball? Of course, it has. The fact that inter-league play requires teams from the two different leagues to now play the game from two vastly different strategy bases, based upon each home club having preference for keeping the normal rules of its own league in place, it becomes a pairing challenge that goes all the way through inter-league regular season play and is then resumed during the  annual World Series.

What a travesty. What a betrayal of tradition. And what a real loss to the integrity of baseball.

Need more proof? This summer, the game of baseball is inducting a former commissioner who tred indifferently all over that DH-caused breech in service to the mending of his own hurt feelings about the 2002 All Star Game “tie” into the Hall of Fame. – More on that move later.

So, what’s the big deal?

The Power of the “Between the Lines” lesson in my life.

Back in 1951-52, I had a school baseball team manager at St. Christopher’s School here in Houston named Frank Veselka. “Mr. Veselka” was a machinist at Hughes Tool Company, but he was first of all, to us, a baseball man who got off work from his shift five days a week and came straight to us for practices and games during the weeks that comprised our baseball season each spring. In our minds, he may as well have been Connie Mack. When Mr. Veselka told us we could do something on the field, we believed he was telling us the truth – that we actually could do it.

My personal best “Mr. Veselka moment” came in 1952, when I got called in to pitch for the first time in a game from center field. Our starter had loaded the bases in the top of the first with a hit and a couple of walks and apparently needed a way out. Mr. Veselka was meeting with him at the mound when he suddenly yelled at me, also issuing a hand wave to join them on the mound.

“Hey, Mac! Come in here!” – I can still hear Mr. Veselka’s words to this day.

“Holy Crap,” I thought, as I jogged into the mound, passing my pitcher-teammate on his way to the center field area I had just departed.

Then I got to the mound. It was Mr. Veselka and me. “What now?” I thought. The answer came quickly.

“Mac,” Mr. Veselka told me quietly, with his right hand on my left shoulder, with a contact that quickly became a grip, as though he were about to rearrange my posture. “Mac,” he said, “you’ve got a good arm and we need you to make good use of it right now. Get us out of this mess. Just throw it as hard as you can over the plate – and we will get you some runs when it’s our turn.”

What happened next was both the start and the highlight of my brief pitching career. – I struck out the side on nine pitches – with 7 swings, 0 fouls, and 2 called strikes. It was the great moment of joy in my ever so brief baseball pitching career, even though I did continue to pitch. I remember asking Mr. Veselka “what do I do now” as I went back out to pitch in the second inning. “Just keep pitching the ball over the plate as hard as you can – for as long as you can,” Mr. Veselka said.

Pretty straightforward instructions. And back then, voices of authority spoke to me in indelible ink.

No problem. I was able to see the ball going over the middle of the plate in my mind, even before I released it. In the four innings I worked as the losing pitcher, I cannot remember throwing more than three balls total. Everything else was either a called or swinging strike out, a foul ball, a contact ball out, or a base hit off a ball coming down the middle. And I neither had the gumption or the wisdom at age 13 to try thinking about the inside or outside black parts of the plate as variable alternate destinations before I released some of those later, slower pitches. My arm speed had worn down from the “hard as you can” part of my precise assignment. Deceiving the batter was not even a general “something” in my preparation for this experience.

The point of this example is to show how powerfully we believed in anything our manager had to say about baseball – even if you were sent into a game with the bases loaded to pitch with nothing else to go on but Mr. Veselka’s words to “get us out of this mess” as your basis for believing in that possibility.

Thanks, Mr. Veselka! That was an object lesson that would come up a few more critical times in life. Fortunately, I would learn over the years that nobody gets through life happily with only a soon-tiring fastball as their response to the full range of challenge that await.

Frank Veselka also taught us about the integrity of the game, even if “integrity” was never an everyday word in the Houston east end of 1952. We certainly heard them enough for me to pretty much guarantee that this memorized paraphrase of what he said is as about as close to the literal version as I am able to recall it:

“Boys, the game of baseball is held together by certain rules of play that make the game what it is – and that’s the best game in the world. It’s up to everybody who suits up to play the game between those white lines out there to play the game at their honest best and by the rules. And that’s very important for you young pups to remember. Always give the game your best. Never cheat. And never, ever short change the game by changing the rules to suit yourselves. It’s three strikes and your out and four balls for a walk. And never do anything to serve your own purposes, if its going to be something that hurts the game of baseball.” ~ Frank Veselka, Manager, St. Christopher’s Parochial School, Houston TX (1948-1956).

The Insufferable Selig Assault Upon Baseball Integrity

Thank God Bud Selig is gone. Thank goodness the All Star Game league winning chip no longer qualifies which league shall play the current year’s World Series with home field advantage. And too bad the HOF voters  probably had to promise Bud Selig with selection for the Hall of Fame in exchange for his retirement as Commissioner of Baseball. Even if they did not, it would make sense that Selig’s lap-sitter supporters would want to clean up his most embarrassing public decision (All Star Game winner Determines Home Team Advantage in the World Series) before the Cooperstown award took place.

As part of the newly modified and time-extended peace agreement between MLB and the MLB Players Union, the home team advantage in the 2017 World Series will now go to the Houston Astros team with the best regular season record – as, indeed, it should.

The All Star Game World Series reward card (2003-2016) violated every primal understanding I ever held about keeping rewards and consequences between the white lines. If your team didn’t do it on their own, you should not be able to benefit from the victory attained by an all-star team whose members probably may not give a wombat’s ankle for how your team fares in the World Series and neither should that fact be compensated by paying members of an all-star team to do it for a team that is still undetermined on a July All Star game date.

And don’t get me started on a 2017-selected Hall of Fame member and former commissioner who pulled one of the oldest late-in-the-day car tricks in the world on Astros owner Jim Crane – just to force him into moving Houston to the AL as a final condition on the club’s franchise purchase from the McLane interests. Had Selig not also, a few years earlier, manipulated the NL to accept his former Brewers club as a transfer franchise from the AL to the NL, the whole leverage lean on Jim Crane would have been unnecessary.

New Commissioner Manfred Changes the IBB rule

Now it’s time for our new Commissioner Rob Manfred to sit or shine, shine or sit. (Never repeat the previous sentence aloud when you already are speaking too fast.)

The question is – Why did Commissioner Rob Manfred change the IBB intentional walk rule for 2017?

The official answer is – He did away with the mandatory four ball pitches and replaced them with some kind of managerial hand signal to the umpire to simply have the next batter take his place at first base as an “intentional walk” runner.

The official explanation for the change flows easily. – It is supposed to save time from the ordinary play of the game.

What? – Save time? – How much saved time? – 30 seconds of saved time for every once-in-a-blue-moon occasions it happens?

Well, so what? Who’s going to miss those 4 lame ball pitches, anyway? – Right?

Who? – I’ll tell you who! – Any of us who’ve ever seen or been involved when one of these IBB pitches go awry are going to miss those actually pitched balls. That’s who.

Have you ever stopped to consider this seemingly simple thought? Under the IBB call situation, unless he’s a brand new entry game pitcher, the guy on the mound that has been having control problems throwing strikes – or out-producing pitches of any kind – is now the same fellow that’s being asked to control throwing four balls in a row! – What could possibly go wrong in this “routine” matter of throwing four outside the strike zone pitches for the traditional IBB execution?

My two favorite examples both involve games in which the IBB pitches were being attempted in the bottom of the 9th of far-in-time separated tie games with runners on 2nd and 3rd -with two outs – and with a good hitter at the plate: (1) In the first instance, a first IBB pitch sailed over the catcher’s head, allowing the winning run to score; (2) In the second example, the right handed batter reached out on a third ball attempted pitch and blooped it into right field for a game-winning RBI.

Forgive my anger tonight, Mr. Manfred, but you just stepped on something that was sacred to the rules of the game that many of us grew up playing between the lines. Perhaps, if you were a little older, and if you too had played for someone like my old manager, Frank Veselka, during your own formative years, we would be on the same side in 2017.

Meanwhile, I will continue to hope for a reversal of the new IBB rules and a return to the traditional 4-pitch walk requirement in 2018.

A Baseball Integrity Council

Our baseball commissioners face a tough job: Do what’s best for the game without violating its integrity or misusing their own power for political reasons. I doubt that Solomon could handle that job without stepping into something they had not intended.

I’m not even sure now where the Commissioner sources his advisories on major baseball business, but it seems to me that some kind of rotating, limited term Baseball Integrity Council might be a good place to start.

Let’s say it’s an 8-person committee for a 4-year term of volunteer service.  These people could come from any strongly connected source in the greater baseball culture. They all would need to be aware of the game’s history and conscious of the difference between an integrity decision and a business decision. (The IBB change is an integrity issue; the cost of parking near a stadium is a business decision.)

On every integrity question facing a commissioner’s decision, each BIC member would provide a written statement to the commissioner. Then, even if he voted against the advice of them all, the commissioner would make the decision.

That is not the situation that exists now. Commissioner Manfred has access to the brightest minds in baseball, but these people aren’t going to necessarily provide him with the feedback he needs, if they aren’t sure how he’s going to react to their suggestions. – Did anyone bother to tell Manfred that he was messing with the integrity of the game when he changed the IBB rules? If not, at least one, or more, of these people is not giving Commissioner Manfred the counsel he needs. And, if they are not speaking up, it is because of their concerns for how a potential dispute with the Commissioner may effect their own relationship.

And, frankly, dear readers, everything that the previous paragraph covers sounds too much like Washington DC to be healthy.

At any rate, some kind of integrity council plan is worth further thought.

Thanks, Mark Wernick!

This column isn’t the one I thought I would write when I first heard from you about the IBB rules change, but it is the one that chose to write itself, thanks to your intellectual nudging. I shall leave the footnoted, citation presentations to those with a little different mind-set on writing.

Thanks for the goose.

____________________


Bill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

 

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3 Responses to “Does the Integrity of Baseball Still Matter?”

  1. gregclucas Says:

    Bigger question: Does the integrity of anything still matter? Standards being lowered all over the place, from education to news reporting, to politics and government, to morals to, yes, even sports. Biggest reason is (need desire, greed) to make more money to survive or get richer (take your pick.)

  2. Larry Dierker Says:

    Amen to that.

    And the one person who epitomizes greed and lack of integrity in baseball is being immortalized in Cooperstown this summer. A passel of steroids and the magical home run spree of Sosa and McGuire in ’98 finally took Selig and Fehr off the hook in for the shameful strike of ’94. Fehr fought testing and Selig looked the other way. Then as his career was winding down, and he had been nicknamed the steroid commissioner, Selig went on a laughable crusade against steroids, leaving many players and every real fan in his filthy wake.

    Don’t even get me started on education and politics.

  3. Tom Hunter Says:

    How will Houston fans, attending the HOF ceremonies in Cooperstown because of the induction of Astro great Jeff Bagwell, greet Bud Selig when he is announced? It should be interesting.

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