ST. LOUIS — The rules are against the Red Sox in the St. Louis portion of the World Series. No, I’m not talking about the obstruction call on Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks that awarded the Cardinals home plate and a 5-4 victory in Game 3 on Saturday night at Busch Stadium.
That was a one-time — correct — ruling against the Red Sox, but not having the use of the designated hitter is an ongoing drag.
In Game 4 on Sunday night, Red Sox manager John Farrell was once again forced by National League (house) rules to leave first baseman Mike Napoli out of the starting lineup in order to keep usual DH and perpetual postseason home run hero David Ortiz in the lineup.
The NL rules have turned Napoli, who batted .292 with two home runs and five RBIs and posted a .987 OPS in the American League Championship Series, into a Designated Sitter.
The Declaration of Independence said “all men are created equal,” but when it comes to our national pastime, not all teams are created equally. American League teams are built to have a designated hitter in the lineup and have been since 1973. National League teams are not. The absurdity of the separate sets of rules is never more apparent than on the sport’s biggest stage, the World Series.
Can you imagine if the NBA Finals were played with the 3-point shot available in one venue and not in the other? Of course not. Yet, baseball persists as a sport divided.
Just to be clear, I’m not advocating forcing the National League to adopt the DH. I don’t care what the rules are, just make sure they’re uniform.
The National League and the American League have made finding common ground on the rules look as hopeless as Republicans and Democrats agreeing on a Grand Bargain.
From his throne atop baseball, commissioner Bud Selig has brought about tremendous change to the game — the expansion of the playoffs (twice), interleague play, a reformatted All-Star Game, consolidation of the umpires, abolition of the AL and NL offices, performance-enhancing drug testing and realignment.
But if Selig, who plans to step down in January of 2015, wants to cement his legacy as an agent of modernization and common sense for MLB, then he should usher in uniformity to the playing rules.
Don’t count on it.
Selig said before Game 3 that at the moment there is no movement to standardize the rulebook but he’s willing to listen.
Selig was the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers when the American League voted to institute the DH in December of 1972.
The idea was the brainchild of eccentric Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley.
“The only thing of Charlie Finley’s I ever voted for,” said Selig. “I believe I voted against everything else, and I had to be talked into voting for that because the American League desperately needed offense. So, here we are 41 years later, and I often worry about [the separate rules].
“But my friend Bill Giles of the Philadelphia Phillies said something to me many times — he’s not a controversial guy. He said, ‘You know I like the controversy between the leagues. I think it’s good.’ ”
The DH wasn’t allowed in the World Series until 1976. From 1976 to 1985 baseball had the arbitrary practice of using the DH in all World Series games in even-numbered years and banning it completely in odd-numbered years.
Since 1986, World Series games have been played by AL rules in AL parks and NL rules in NL parks. The inherent threat to competitive integrity brought about by the bifurcation of baseball by different rule books is particularly noticeable in this World Series.
The Sox are so desperate to try to find a way to get Napoli, the team’s usual No. 5 hitter, at-bats they’ve had him working at third base, a position he last manned in Single A in 2004.
Napoli’s absence in the starting lineup was more glaring after the Sox scratched Shane Victorino from Game 4 due to lower back stiffness.
Lost in all the confusion, dissection, and disbelief from the ending of Game 3 was the fact that Napoli didn’t even get an at-bat. Farrell elected to save for him for an extra-inning situation, allowing reliever Brandon Workman to bat in the top of the ninth. Workman was totally overpowered on three straight fastballs from Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal.
That’s what Major League Baseball wants on its grandest stage in an instant classic game, an overmatched rookie pitcher in his first big league at-bat getting mowed down like the Fenway lawn?
“Fortunately for us, I think there’s probably more of an adjustment for the American League team coming into the National League than vice versa,” said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny.
“There’s a lot more moving parts with double-switches and trying to put your roster together. But fortunately, we went into an American League city kind of with an American League roster, with having another guy, [Allen Craig], we knew we wanted to have as part of our lineup. So, that worked out pretty well.”
Some say that having two sets of rules creates a quirky charm for baseball. If you consider disunion charm, fine. Others love the nostalgia of the NL playing the game how it used to be.
But no one is clamoring to bring back wool uniforms, tiny gloves, and train travel. The sport evolved beyond those one-time staples. It should evolve beyond having two sets of rules too.