A revolutionary idea from the past: 4-man rotation

On Baseball

June 20, 1999|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Major League Baseball isn't planning any dramatic action to stop the offensive avalanche that has descended on the sport. The mound isn't going to be raised anytime soon, and there has been no attempt to change the specifications of the supposedly juiced baseball.

Instead, baseball commissioner Bud Selig said recently that the onus is on the individual clubs to improve the quality of their pitching staffs, which would be no small feat in this era of diluted talent.

There is one other possible solution.

Go back to four-man rotations.

That's the one sweeping change that would not require the baseball equivalent of an act of Congress to accomplish. Each team has the option of going back to a four-starter system, but most managers are reluctant to do so for one obvious reason.

The shortage of pitching talent has put a greater premium on quality starting pitchers, so clubs are reluctant to put them at a greater injury risk by pitching them more often.

It's a legitimate concern, but in the era of the seven-man bullpen, would it really be so unreasonable to ask a starting pitcher to throw five or six innings every fourth day?

There are a handful of workhorse pitchers who still crank out a lot of innings. Orioles right-hander Scott Erickson, for example, led the American League in starts, complete games and innings pitched last season. But the vast majority of pitchers are geared more toward getting the team into the sixth or seventh inning. Three days' rest should be enough.

The mass shift to five-man rotations took place in the 1970s, about the same time that baseball turned to full-scale specialization in the bullpen. It made sense because there was enough quality pitching to justify it. It doesn't make sense now, in an era when few major-league teams have four quality starters, much less five.

Of course, it would take some time -- and no small amount of organizational courage -- to effect a baseball-wide change. Clubs would have to make the shift at the minor-league level to get young pitchers ready for the rigors of a four-man system, which could put some expensive prospects at risk of arm injuries.

Over the long term, however, the young pitchers who reach the majors would be more durable and experienced, which would further improve the balance between pitching and offense.

Baseball owners believe that fans only care about scoring, but they might be surprised at the way the ticket buyers and television audiences respond to more quality pitching matchups.

The games would be shorter, and the fans would stay in their seats longer. There would be fewer 20-run games, but there would be more 20-game winners.

Maybe there wouldn't be quite as many home runs, but the current offense-oriented environment could lead to the eventual devaluation of the home run. You really can have too much of a good thing.

The shift back to four-man rotations would prevent that from happening. It's worth a try.

Angels jinx

Somebody recently asked rookie outfielder Mike Colangelo if he believed that there is an Angels jinx.

"I'm not aware of anything," Colangelo innocently replied.

Perhaps he might want to look down at the cast on his right hand, or ask superstar Mo Vaughn about his first experience in an Anaheim Angels uniform.

Colangelo was called up to the majors last Sunday and singled in his first major-league at-bat, but his big-league debut came to a crashing halt in the seventh inning, when he collided with teammate Reggie Williams and suffered multiple injuries.

He tore ligaments in his right thumb and suffered a mild concussion, the hand injury likely to keep him out of action for about a month, but he retained a positive attitude about his first day in the bigs.

"I'll never forget this day," he said. "All the twists and turns, my first hit, my first assist, I got knocked out. It was an exciting day."

It just keeps getting worse. Vaughn suffered a badly sprained ankle on Opening Day. Shortstop Gary DiSarcina was knocked out of action for several months by a fungo bat. Outfielders Jim Edmonds and Tim Salmon are sidelined indefinitely.

Tough crowd

Chicago White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas is having a pretty good year, but "The Big Hurt" had his feelings hurt by Cubs fans during last weekend's interleague series at Wrigley Field.

There was a group of Cubs fans wearing T-shirts that pictured Thomas in a ball gown and called him "The Big Skirt."

"The `Big Skirt' thing is getting on my nerves," Thomas told reporters. "It's easy to get away with that from far away. They better not challenge me with that."

One for the O's

General manager Frank Wren and the rest of the Orioles' front office has taken a lot of heat for the configuration of the 1999 team and some of the moves that were made during their hurried off-season, but there is one deal that is above any criticism.

The acquisition of Charles Johnson in the three-way trade with the Dodgers and Mets was a major coup that solidified the club both offensively and defensively.

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