Learning More about the Black Sox Scandal

The Society for American Baseball Research has released Eight Myths Out, a report by its Black Sox Scandal Research Committee debunking widely held beliefs about the worst gambling scandal in the sport’s history.

I was amazed by what I learned in reviewing this work, released as we begin the centennial of the fixing of the 1919 World Series. If most of what you know about it comes from the excellent movie Eight Men Out, you will learn quite a bit.

As the SABR Facebook announcement explains:

The Black Sox Scandal is a cold case, not a closed case; new evidence has been discovered in recent years that has enhanced our collective knowledge of the scandal. Much of the popular narrative about the scandal falls apart under closer scrutiny.

I found that many of my assumptions about the scandal were wrong. And the researchers here have shown there work with links to documents and other artifacts now available online.

I think SABR has done a great service to offer this resource as we enter a new era of legal sports gaming. Knowing what actually happened with the Black Sox and the gambling culture of the first decades of the 20th Century may even help us better avoid such scandals in the future.

The Best Part: the Owners and Players are Talking

ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports that Major League Baseball owners and players have agreed to a variety of rule changes for implementation over the next couple of years. But as he notes, the most important part of this agreement may be that labor and management are finally talking after years of increasing disagreements between the two sides.

Spurred by labor relations discord amid a second consecutive free-agent market that has left players disappointed, the mid-collective-bargaining-agreement negotiations represent a step forward between two sides that had squabbled privately and publicly. Perhaps the most important part of the deal isn’t the elimination of August trades, the tweaking of All-Star Game starter selections, the incentives for stars to participate in the derby, the elimination of one-out relievers or the addition of a 26th player next year. It’s the provision that the sides will begin discussing labor issues imminently, far earlier than they typically would with a CBA that doesn’t expire until December 2021.

Baseball has grown dramatically since the 1994-95 strike that devastated the game and ended up with the cancellation of the 1994 World Series (the first time it wasn’t played since 1903).

Much of the pace-of-play concern stems from worry that fans aren’t willing to sit through or watch long games in a world where everyone has more content options. But let’s be clear: a strike or lock-out would do far more to hurt baseball than a pitcher taking longer than 20 seconds to deliver a pitch to the plate.

The owners and players need to figure out how to address the real economic issues facing the sport without a strike or lockout. They cannot take the risk that people will permanently find other ways to spend their time or money if baseball goes away.

I’ll share thoughts on the rule changes after Major League Baseball officially announces them later today.

Chicago Cubs Launch Updated YouTube Channel

The Chicago Cubs today launched an updated YouTube Channel full of new content this fan found quite compelling. I’m glad to see the award-winning Cubs Productions team continue its impressive run.

As the new trailer shows, the Cubs are going to offer a variety of features from reviews of key moments, interviews with Cub favorites, Top Ten lists, segments with Cubs players and staff mic’d up, and other fun features.

I immediately watched the first episode of The Breakdown, a look at one of the top moments of the 2018 season: David Bote’s ultimate grand slam against the Washington Nationals.

This clip includes interviews with Bote, manager Joe Maddon, and the other players who got on base ahead of Bote to make the game-winning home run possible.

We get to hear the players’ insights into how they approached their at-bats during this key inning, including what kinds of pitches they thought they might see and how their history against the Nationals pitcher impacted their thinking as they tried to focus on keeping the game alive.

The feature is just over 10 minutes long, but that time went by quickly as we see how that inning developed. I got the chills again seeing Bote’s swing and his celebratory run around the bases.

Like other fans, I anticipate that the Cubs will be using this new YouTube channel to see what kinds of content work best as the team prepare for the launch of the new Marquee Sports Network in 2020.

MLB and Atlantic League Announce Experimental Rule Changes for 2019 Season

We are going to see some aggressive new ideas in the Atlantic League this season as part of that circuit’s partnership with Major League Baseball. The rules changes include:

  • Home plate umpire assisted in calling balls and strikes by a TrackMan radar tracking system
  • No mound visits permitted by players or coaches other than for pitching changes or medical issues
  • Pitchers must face a minimum of three batters, or reach the end of an inning before they exit the game, unless the pitcher becomes injured
  • Increase size of 1st, 2nd and 3rd base from 15 inches square to 18 inches square
  • Require two infielders to be on each side of second base when a pitch is released (if not, the ball is dead and the umpire shall call a ball)
  • Time between innings and pitching changes reduced from 2:05 to 1:45
  • Distance from pitching rubber to home plate extended 24 inches, in the second half of the season only; with no change to mound height or slope

Some of these I expected. Reducing mound visits, restricting defensive shifts, and requiring pitchers to face three batters have been suggested at the Major League level as part of the ongoing conversations about improving the pace of play.

I didn’t expect to see robot umpires or moving the pitching mound back two feet. That said, this is why I was excited when MLB and the Atlantic League announced this partnership: it is a great way to test the impact of some of the more radical ideas to get a feel for how they would impact the game.

Returning to the Basketball Court

Last night I took my youngest son to see our favorite NBA team, the Boston Celtics, play at the Sacramento Kings.

My son has blossomed into a basketball player after switching to the sport a little more than two years ago when his gymnastics career came to an end. He just completed a successful season on his high school’s freshman basketball team. And people who follow me on Facebook or Instagram have seen some of his many highlights.

This was my first NBA game in about 20 years. I went to a Washington Wizards game when I lived in the D.C. area. I didn’t find that game all that fun to watch. I saw big-time agents interacting during warm-up periods in ways that made me cringe. The style of play at that time was difficult to watch. It didn’t make me want to return anytime soon. Baseball and hockey for me!

But a parent does respond when a child loves something. Since his switch to basketball, I’ve been getting back into the game more and more. It helps that the current era of NBA basketball is more to my liking—more flow, more passing, more scoring. I’ve seen enough focus on isolation and one-on-one play to last a lifetime or two.

While I’ve watched hundreds of Celtics games over the years on television, I’ve never attended one in person. Since my son’s schedule was free, I decided to take him.

We had a great time. The Golden 1 Center in Sacramento is amazing. We were sitting in the nosebleed area, but we could see everything. They have mic’d up the rims and nets so even we could hear the ball swish through the net or bounce off the rim. The food was great and my son had an awesome time.

It’s entertainment, after all. And my guess is that it won’t be two decades before I get to my next NBA game.

A Smarter Way to Add the Designated Hitter

Alas, it is looking almost certain that the National League will add the designated hitter rule within the next few years.

The pressure to do so is coming from too many quarters to ignore. Many observers now argue it is time for the rules to be uniform across the sport. The Major League Baseball Players Association reportedly suggested it as part of a series of rules changes to consider as part of the ongoing pace-of-play conversation.

If the players want it, it’s almost certainly going to happen. The only question now is when.

I’ve always preferred the National League because it does not have the Designated Hitter. One of the reasons I ended up rooting for the Chicago Cubs despite living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as a kid was this difference between the two leagues. The nearby American League teams (Detroit Tigers and Milwaukee Brewers) played a different brand of baseball from what I preferred. Once my family subscribed to cable, and I had access to WGN’s season-long coverage of National League Cubs games that mostly started during the day, my fandom was secured.

Forcing managers to decide when to make lineup and pitching changes as the pitcher’s turn in the batting order comes up is one of the aspects of the game I find most interesting to watch. Who is thinking ahead? How are managers utilizing their bench? Can the pitcher at least lay down a decent bunt (which is still a difficult skill facing a major leaguer)?

The Designated Hitter as implemented in the American League removes a significant part of this strategy from the game. But this isn’t the only way to implement it.

In 2014, Ryan Morrison explained his idea for a hybrid path forward: having the Designated Hitter only apply to the starting pitcher.

If we are to have a universal DH, this is by far the best solution I’ve seen for it. It keeps the late-game strategy I love a part of the game. And it provides a way to help solve another challenge facing the sport today, the decreased emphasis on starting pitching.

ESPN’s Buster Olney summed up several of the issues the increased emphasis on relief pitchers creates:

Major league baseball desperately needs to get off the growing front-office addiction to relief pitchers, which is helping to destroy important components of the game.

Among those: the essential pre-eminence of starting pitchers, who need to be marquee-worthy not only for the teams and their marketing departments but also for the players’ union; the scoring of runs by means other than a home run; and batters making contact and putting the ball in play.

Buster Olney

While I disagree with his proposed solution to limit the number of pitchers managers can use in each game, I think Morrison’s designated hitter proposal would help solve many of the problems Olney identifies, but in a way that adds to the strategy of the game.

The universal Designated Hitter is coming. It makes no sense to continue to ignore it or hope we won’t see the National League rules change. But there are opportunities to implement the change in a way that keeps the late-game strategy in place, provides more jobs to players, and helps to reinstate starting pitching to the level of prominence it deserves.