New pitch is outside, but balls,strike intact Against interleague play

January 22, 1996|By John Eisenberg

As a card-carrying baseball traditionalist, I humbly offer this advice to the rest of my fraternity: Don't lose your voice screaming about the pending arrival of interleague play.

It's too late.

The war is over.

We lost.

They won.

And it's OK.

My preference would be no designated hitter, no wild cards, no interleague games, no pointless expansion. But I have learned that it doesn't really matter what kinds of obscenities the owners visit on their game.

They can't touch the game itself. And that's what matters.

between the bases and 60 feet, 6 inches from the rubber to the plate, baseball will remain pretty much the same.

in their desperate attempt to recover lost fans, fans will always be able to watch a ballgame and enjoy it as the simple and unchanged marvel it has been for more than a century.

That's what matters.

Basically, things really aren't going to change much as long as the owners don't trot out more of their beloved polling data claiming that a majority of fans favor four outs per inning and 80 feet between bases. (Don't laugh. I can already hear Bud Selig: "Our fans want more offense! More excitement! By golly, we should give it to them!")

Sure, it's a shame to throw more than 100 years of traditions in the trash can just because fans are disgusted with Selig and Don Fehr and the whole labor mess. Don't get me started.

But the truth is that these changes in baseball's framework are mostly just ornamental in nature.

Admittedly, the '95 season has made it harder to stand on traditionalist grounds in any baseball debate. Adding a wild-card qualifier to the playoffs wasn't a disaster at all. The Angels and Mariners still staged a terrific pennant race. The Mariners-Yankees series was the best of the postseason. Clearly, the game wasn't damaged. If anything, it benefited.

Of course, there was still damage done underneath it all: conceptual damage. I'll always be loyal to the idea of reserving the postseason for division winners, teams that have actually had to accomplish something other than finishing second. Winners-only playoffs were part of what made baseball different and special.

But not many people care about conceptual damage anymore.

The war is over.

The commissioner is just an owner with an agenda.

Fans love wild cards.

Shouting any disagreements is just a waste of time.

This business about interleague play probably will break down a lot like the wild-card issue did. The game won't suffer for having AL and NL teams play for the first time in the regular season. The only damage will be conceptual.

The game probably will benefit from new rivalries, fresh angles and new names on every team's home schedule. Orioles-Mets at Camden Yards? Interesting. Orioles-Maddux? Very interesting.

Still, loyalists such as myself will always prefer the days when the two leagues didn't play until the World Series. The Series was just more mysterious and singular that way. Of course, Selig calls that argument "absurd." And he has polling data proving his point. Excuse me.

Ah, well. The game will go on, Bud and Donald willing. Things will indeed get interesting when the Mets and Phillies come here for the first time. And the point is that, in the end, things won't change that much. They really can't change that much.

The real shame is that the owners are making these changes out of desperation, at a time when attendance is down and baseball's popularity is at a relatively low ebb. The owners seem to believe that the problem is that the game has gotten boring and outdated. Typically faulty thinking.

Baseball's problem is that fans finally got tired of being taken for granted by the players and owners and, in the wake of the Great Strike of '94, finally decided to take a stand. That's why so many more seats were empty last year.

The problem with baseball isn't that the game has gotten boring or outdated; the problem is the people who populate the game.

Yet now those very people are making historic changes in the game, and no one can stop them.

It isn't right.

But pitchers and catchers will report in less than a month, regardless of what happens.

The game will survive.

On most nights, it'll seem no different at all.

D8 Thankfully, there is only so much the owners can do.

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