After 99 long days, we can finally say the three words that we have been waiting to say since the Braves won the World Series last November: baseball is back. A new collective bargaining agreement has finally been signed, and spring training games are starting to be played.
However, things have changed since the Atlanta Braves lifted up the Commissioner’s Trophy in November. Arguably the largest change is the universal designated hitter, officially ending the run of pitchers being in the batting order in the National League. As someone who loves offense and high scoring games, I really want to like this decision. While teams in the National League can now have nine true hitters in the lineup, the NL was the final professional league to have pitchers in the batting lineup. I remember the day when Bartolo Colon hit a home run, and the year when Jacob DeGrom had more RBI than runs allowed. With the universal DH, Max Fried will be the final pitcher to win the Silver Slugger.
One of the most hated things about the old pace of play rules added was making doubleheader games seven innings and starting extra innings with a runner on second base. Thankfully, those rules are no longer a part of the game. I think the only true con is that the games last longer, but I will gladly take more baseball. I remember falling asleep in brief 30 second spurts while watching the 18-inning game 3 of the 2018 World Series. I went to bed at 3:30 that night, and I still regret nothing. However, there are talks of bringing back the extra innings ghost runner.
The MLB postseason expansion is a change I’m iffy on. I enjoyed the 2020 postseason and all the teams that got in. Still the addition of an extra team for each league could be improved. If this rule had been implemented last year, a strong Blue Jays team would have made the postseason in the American League, but a Reds team that finished two games above .500 would also have made it in.
The MLB Draft is the least hyped draft in professional sports. It takes a few years for prospects to make it to the majors, if they even make it that far, and before the new CBA the MLB draft lasted 40 rounds. Now the draft will run 20 rounds, but wouldn’t most players rather be drafted instead of being signed as a free agent? It might add more strategy for draft picks, so that’s a positive. We’re also going to see a draft lottery to decide the top six picks, so the worst team is no longer guaranteed the number one pick. Fans should be excited to see new teams get the number one overall pick instead of the Tigers and Orioles every year.
One of the worst things that can happen to a player is to bounce around from the minors to the big league throughout the season. It’s not uncommon to see a player sent down to the Gwinnett Stripers before getting called up to the Atlanta Braves multiple times in a season, but these roster moves will now be limited to five options per player — which is still too many. I prefer it over the old rule of unlimited options as long as players pass waivers, but a limit of three roster moves would be preferable. I understand that injuries can happen, but I think it’s best to call up someone who hasn’t played in the majors in a while or someone who hasn’t made their big league debut yet. It could also help teams see players perform in the majors, helping them decide whether to keep or trade them.
All fans know the pinstripes for the Yankees, the blue and orange for the Mets and the iconic Dodger blue. Now imagine those jerseys with the McDonald’s arches on them, because that’s what jerseys will look like very soon after MLB adds advertisements to jerseys. I’m avoiding judgment until the uniforms are revealed. I really like how the NBA does it; I can’t imagine the Hawks jersey without the Sharecare logo in the corner. However, I really dislike how the WNBA or soccer leagues do it, as the entire team’s identity seems to be based around the company. I may not like the idea of the Yankees Jersey having the TikTok logo on it, but hopefully baseball keeps the ads small and tasteful.
There is also a pair of new rules for prospects and rookies. Now if a player finishes first or second place in rookie of the year voting, they automatically get a year of service time. Also if a prospect starts the season on the opening day roster, the team they play for will be eligible to get Draft Picks if the player gets top three in rookie of the year voting or top five in MVP or Cy Young voting. I like how this encourages teams to call up future stars sooner rather than later.
The final change won’t take place until next year, but it’s a big one. Starting in 2023, a committee of four active players, six members appointed by MLB and one umpire are tasked to adopt new rules. The big one is the automatic strike zone, also called robotic umpires. The flaws of umpiring, while being the cause of lots of controversy, adds strategy to the game. Pitchers need to figure out what the umpire calls a ball, and what they call a strike. Every umpire has a different strike zone, and making strike calls automatic strips away strategy, along with the technology possibly malfunctioning. The rules on the table also include limits to defensive shifting, enlarged bases, and a pitch clock.
While I’m not a fan of some changes, as long as the lockout is over, I’m happy. Spring training games began March 18, and opening day is April 7. It doesn’t matter how many rule changes are happening, there’s still one thing that we can all be happy about: baseball is back. Play ball.