Recently I was listening to the This Week in Baseball History podcast. TWiBH is one of my favorite baseball-related podcasts so it’s not surprising that I was listening to an episode. The guest for this particular episode was Mike Petriello of MLB.com fame. He was on the pod to talk about the stats-driven broadcasts of Major League Baseball games that he is a part of for ESPN. Not the most interesting topic to me, but the hosts of TWiBH, Mike Bates and Bill Parker, have the uncanny ability to routinely provide me with great entertainment on topics I initially thought wouldn’t interest me.
I’m not writing to discuss Bill and Mike in any way. I’m not even writing to discuss TWiBH (though really, if you love baseball you should be listening as it’s appointment listening every week). What I do want to discuss is a throwaway moment from Petriello where I was taken aback by the hubris he showed towards unaffiliated baseball. At one point the hosts were discussing the various experimental rules changes that MLB has seen fit to implement in independent baseball. Specifically, they zoned in on the Atlantic League and their efforts to move the mound back to see the effect it would have on pitchers and hitters.
I hate that rule, not because I’m anti-new rules, but because I think it’s a silly change. I’d be in favor of lowering the mound more, but moving it back messes with the symmetry of the baseball diamond in a way that doesn’t sit well with me. That too, is not why we are here today. We are here because of the moment when one of the hosts brought up the idea of the pitching mound change being bad for ALPB pitchers because it would affect their ability to get signed by MLB clubs. To this Petriello said, “I hear it. I think that’s fair. What I haven’t really heard though is what is the better option?” The hosts quickly moved on to other topics, but my mind lingered on what Petriello had said.
Rather, my mind focused on the implications of what Petriello said. He all but said it was okay for ALPB players to be used as guinea pigs because they couldn’t do it with players on MLB rosters or in affiliated leagues. What bothers me about that is that the problem MLB is trying to fix, a lack of offense thanks to a number of factors, isn’t an unaffiliated ball problem. There’s no reason for the ALPB, or any other league, to try out any of these experimental rules because the issues that are plaguing MLB aren’t issues outside of their borders. They may well be someday, but that’s not the case right now.
Knowing that’s the reality of the situation it made it pretty hard to swallow an MLB employee saying the equivalent of, “What, you think we should test this on our own players? Nope, no one cares about these unaffiliated rubes so we’ll test it on them.” I don’t believe Petriello meant exactly that, but unfortunately with his MLB association and the way he answered the question that’s certainly what I and other unaffiliated ball fans have taken away from his comments. More than anything, it’s the gall and hubris of an MLB employee suggesting there is no other way to test these rules, that for the good of MLB the careers of unaffiliated players must be possibly sacrificed as if that is in any way a truth.
The truth is that this is an MLB problem and MLB could test these rules out on their own players or using players in the affiliated minor leagues (they have started doing the latter). What Petriello’s comments unwittingly echoed is the truth that at the end of the day MLB and Rob Manfred do not care about baseball. No, they only care about their brand of baseball and will gladly use the unaffiliated leagues as a Petrie dish of ruined careers to test out their new rules. The unaffiliated leagues who go along with MLB’s bidding deserve plenty of blame themselves, but that’s a column for another day. Today, my ire is directed at MLB and their continued actions and words that highlight a belief that everyone is expendable to the MLB brand of baseball.
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Ewing Irrigation and Landscape Supply