NEW YORK — Pitchers no longer hit — unless you’re Shohei Ohtani — and a growing number of them receive signals from the catcher via a small audio receiver in the sweatband of their cap to cut down on sign stealing.
Extra innings start with a runner on second base.
Rosters this month have 28 players, but that will drop to 26 on May 1, with a maximum of 13 pitchers.
If a play is reviewed by the umpires, the crew chief now has a microphone to announce the decision to the crowd.
If they choose, players can wear a small mic during games for television. Joey Votto and Francisco Lindor have already done it, and Kiké Hernández agreed to for ESPN on Sunday night.
How you watch games has changed, too. There were two games on Apple TV+ on Friday night and next month there will be Saturday morning games on Peacock.
Starting next season, all 30 teams will play each other at least once.
Major League Baseball promoted the start of the season with a video featuring an assortment of exuberant bat flips. Players also are free to wear customized spikes in whatever colors they want, something forbidden a few years ago.
Down in the minors, select leagues are experimenting with larger bases, pitch clocks, banning shifts and an automated strike zone. The overarching goal is to create a better rhythm to the game and more action on the field.
More new rules are expected as soon as 2023.
What the heck has happened to baseball? Maybe the better question is why did it take so long?
“We’re trying to sell a product,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Saturday before his team’s 4-2 loss to the Yankees. “We’re in a good spot with the rules. I saw the reaction of the fans [Friday] in Toronto when the umpires reversed the call and that place went nuts.
“What we’re trying to accomplish is to get this product where people buy it and see it and they enjoy it.”
In the end, that’s the hard truth baseball ignored for too long. It’s a product that competes with theaters, amusement parks, television shows, video games and other sports for your time, attention, and dollars.
Staying the same wasn’t an option. Long games and a lack of offense was draining away the entertainment value. Baseball, already an acquired taste, was getting tougher to swallow.
“The society we live in is so much different now,” Cora said.
Cora comes from a baseball family and sees how it works every day. His mother complains to him about the lack of small-ball in the game and his 4-year-old twin sons want to see home runs.
“I tell my mom when she talks about bunting and all that stuff, I say, ‘Mom you didn’t have a cell phone 30 years ago. Now you have a cell phone. Move on.’ ”
My theory is the pandemic helped spark all this change.
Like every other under industry, baseball had to adapt to the crisis. The 2020 season was reduced to 60 games and rules were created to speed things up and get the players out of the park.
A runner was put at second base to start extra innings and doubleheaders became two seven-inning games. Health and safety concerns overcame any concerns or complaints about making radical changes.
Most players, managers, and coaches loved the extra-innings rule. It forced the action and most games ended in an inning or two. Gone were the days when a 16-inning game would cause roster moves and beat a team up for a few days.
That opened minds to more changes. In a few years, baseball evolved more than it had in decades.
“There’s always something around the corner it seems like,” said Rich Hill, the most veteran Sox player. “We’re in a different time now.”
Hill understands the attraction of making the game more palatable for fans. But he worries about the players shouldering the burden, especially those who aren’t established big leaguers.
“Some of this is good, some is bad,” Hill said. “The slogan used to be, ‘Let The Kids Play.’ But the league also wants more control of the game.”
Theo Epstein, who was hired by MLB as a consultant to help with the rules changes, has said baseball needs to find the best version of itself.
It’s not there yet. But it’s a lot closer than it was a few years ago.