Finally, Major League Baseball made several moves through new rules to speed up the game and make it more interesting.
The combined batting averages of all big league players last season was only .243, the lowest since 1968, 55 years ago.
In an effort to produce more hits, action and runs and reduce the length of games which averaged three hours and six minutes last season, here are the rule changes.
After getting the ball from the catcher or umpire, pitchers must begin their motion within 15 seconds if there aren’t any runners on base. With a runner on base, pitchers have an extra five seconds to start their motion. If pitchers go beyond 20 seconds, the umpire calls a ball.
There is a 30 second time limit between batters and a hitter has eight seconds once he enters the batter’s box to get ready to face the pitcher or an automatic strike is called. While the clock speeds up the game and eliminates some boredom, the enlarged bases creates the possibility of more stolen bases and more runners which obviously could translate into more runs.
In previous seasons the bases were 15 inches square. Now, it’s 18 inches. The distance between first base and second is 4.5 inches closer, and the same between second and third base. The batter’s box and home plate are unchanged, but there will be some infield hits as an enlarged first base is closer to the batter and more runners will be called safe at first base on close plays than in previous seasons.
Pitchers can try two pickoff attempts on a runner and if he fails on the third try, a balk is called and all runners advance a base. This most likely will eliminate a third try.
Managers can no longer employ the shift and put the second baseman in short right field. Left-handed batters were usually stymied by the move and many were thrown out at first base while hitting balls that would have made it to the right fielder turning hits into outs.
This season, when a pitcher begins his motion, all four infielders must be stationed on the infield dirt and two must be on both sides of second base. The infielders could start running in any direction as the pitcher is in motion. This will definitely result in a higher batting average for some left-handed batters.
One change that was implemented in 2020 proved popular with players as it cut down the time for extra inning games to go on and wear down players. This season that change is a permanent rule. Starting with the tenth inning, each half inning would start with a runner on second base.
One player I’ll miss this season is Albert Pujols. The 43-year-old slugger who started and ended his career with the St. Louis Cardinals with stops with the Dodgers and Angels, amassed 703 career home runs. That was only 11 homers away from Babe Ruth’s career mark of 714.
Pujols admits he could have passed The Babe as he felt he had enough in the tank. He probably couldn’t duplicate the .323 batting average with 18 home runs in only the second half of last season in a full season this time around, but fandom would have been watching.
“Can I still do it? Of course,” Pujols told USA Today. “But I don’t want to do it.” Pujols could have hung around and then tried to reach Hank Aaron’s 755 career homers and even tried for Barry Bonds’s performance enhancement drugs-helped mark of 763. “I’d be an old man chasing people,” Pujols said. ” I never played the game to break records. I am done.”
One player who hung around way too long is Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera. He’s in the last year of a ten year contract worth $300 million. He hasn’t been worth $30 million a season for the last six seasons as he hasn’t reached 20 home runs in any of the last six seasons or hit .300. Cabrera, who turns 40, in April totaled 61 homers in the last six seasons, a slight average of 10 per season with a six year batting average under .270.
We can’t blame him for hanging around to collect another $30 million this season. But by hanging around a couple of extra seasons, Cabrera’s career batting average has dropped behind Hank Greenberg’s and so did his home runs per at-bat. Cabrera has 507 career home runs with a .307 batting average while Greenberg missed about four seasons due to military service and was smart enough to retire as a player at 36 with a .313 lifetime average and 331 career homers.
Cabrera hit more than 40 home runs in a season twice, while Greenberg did it four times. Once, of course, was his famous season of 58 homers in 1938 when he came up two shy of Babe Ruth’s single season record of 60 at the time.
Hank homered every 15.69 at -bats while Cabrera did every 19.77 at-bats. Cabrera never reached 140 runs batted in in a single season of 162 games. Greenberg topped the 140 RBI mark four times and the season was 154 games during his career. Greenberg reached 146 RBI in 1936, 150 in 1940, 170 in 1935 and an amazing 183 in 1937, when he missed one game by sitting out Yom Kippur.
While Miguel Cabrera will be cheered at every road stop the Tigers make this season and will make the Hall of Fame on the first try, Hank Greenberg remains the best power hitter in Detroit Tigers history.