December 11, 2013
Get It Now!Hardball Times Annual is now available. It's got 300 pages of articles, commentary and even a crossword puzzle. You can buy the Annual at Amazon, for your Kindle or on our own page (which helps us the most financially). However you buy it, enjoy!
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Monday, December 10, 2012
Forty years ago today, the lords of baseball decided to make not one but two notable changes that have made a substantial impact upon the game. Rather impressive, wouldn’t you say? In both cases, they implemented an idea that had already been around, but in both cases the powers that be made it an official part of the game.
Maybe the least important change was the decision to adopt a new stat, the save. When I say “least important,” I don’t mean to dismiss the impact the save has had on the game. It’s actually had a substantial impact, as over time it’s shaped how relief aces get used. Now they are reserved almost exclusively for save opportunities whereas previously they entered a game when the team felt it was the most important, regardless of if it was a save or not.
The save has had an impact, but ultimately all that happened was that a stat that was already around became official. Former Chicago sportswriter Jerome Holtzman created it years earlier because he thought wins and losses didn’t adequately reflect how a relief ace helps his team win games. The save was already gaining in popularity and would’ve anyway without baseball owners making it official. Heck, a lot of the stats we use nowadays aren’t officially sanctioned ones.
Still, making the save official did matter. It gave extra credibility to the stat and how people viewed relievers in general. Also, nowadays the internet makes it far easier for people to use unofficial stats. Back then, if a stat wasn’t official, it probably wouldn’t be on back of the baseball card, and then who would know about it? So making saves official mattered, though one can overstate its importance.
The other rule change from 40 years ago today had a much more obvious impact, an impact as undeniable as it was/is controversial: the creation of the designated hitter.
The idea was around, but it hadn’t been acted on until Dec. 10, 1972. On that day, American League owners voted to create it. There are reasons why the AL opted for it while the NL opposed it. First, they really were different leagues back then. Now, they’re just conferences, but there were much stronger differences in identity back then.
The AL had an inferiority complex. People generally regarded it as the inferior league, as the junior circuit always lost the All-Star Game. More problematically, AL teams drew fewer fans per game. That’s why they went to the DH, in hopes of increased offense leading to more butts in seats. The NL owners were comfortable with their position and income, and thus saw no reason to adopt the DH. Tradition worked for them, so they went the traditional route.
The AL did see a rise in attendance, eventually reaching parity with the NL. So they kept it, while the NL never has seen the need.
By now, the DH is the only real difference between the leagues. We have interleague play, and free agents float back and forth from team to team in either league. AL and NL owners used to vote on many matters separately (such as whether/not to create a DH). When was the last time that happened? Even the office of league president has been abolished.
It would be very difficult for baseball to get rid of the DH. Doing so would anger the players’ union, which is still easily the strongest one in sports. And owners voted to create the DH the same day they voted to make the save official, 40 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that occurred X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
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