I like Tom Verducci. I think he's a great writer and a good guy. We shook hands at the Jorge Posada honoring at the Joe Torre Gala last November. He had no idea who I was and I really don't care. The point is, it's nice to see these guys once in a while.
He wrote a piece about the shift in baseball in good old Sports Illustrated. You know, that annoying move of defense that prepares the opponent so there are literally 3 guys on the right side of 2nd base and 1 shortstop, who's actually the 3rd baseman, and literally no one on the left side of the infield. Sometimes even the outfield shifts too.
Teams do it to maximize their chances to get big hitters out who normally hit to the right side, like, all the time. Tom writes:
"I recently asked a veteran major league hitting coach what can be done to inject more offense back in the game. His first response was to address the new defensive positioning.
'The shifts,' he said. 'Get rid of them. You need to come up with a definition of illegal defense. I know you’ll say, ‘Well, you’re a hitting coach. Of course you would [say that].’ But it’s something that has really changed the game.'
Support of an 'illegal defense' rule – or at least the consideration of it – is gaining some traction in baseball. Such a rule might stipulate, for instance, that you cannot have three infielders on one side of second base. A shortstop would be able to shift as far as directly behind second base on a lefthanded hitter, but no farther."
But I need to ask... why are we thinking about this? This is baseball, not lacrosse. I mean, sure, I like great defense like most people, but this is a terrific strategy in baseball. Here's an idea, how about we actually get hitters to spray the field? How in the world can teams or batters complain about something that they can easily fix themselves?
When I was in my teens, and no where near Major League caliber mind you, I would go to the cages for hours with my dad and he would teach me to spray the field.
"Hit down the 3rd base line!"
"Now up the middle."
"I want a hard liner over second base."
We'd do it for quite a while, and over time, it became my signature in high school. I'd single through third and short regularly as a lefty. I'd put it up the middle if the field seemed crowded. And when I couldn't do much of anything, I'd bunt down the line and run my ass off. You find a way to get on base in High School... and by the way, I did it for free. But now, Verducci and others in baseball are suggesting there needs to be some kind of a rule for 'illegal defense'? Why? So it's easier for hitters? This is Major League Baseball, right? These guys get paid millions of dollars to get on base. So... do it!
If the shift comes into play, adjust. Like when you were in Little League, the coach would joke, but say, "Look at those gaps... hit it there!" These days, I see pictures of a frustrated, cranky David Ortiz throwing his bat down because he couldn't get on base because of "the darn shift." Well, that's your problem, Papi.
I saw Brian McCann ground out 2 times on Tuesday night because the shift killed him.
My wife said, "Why are there 2 right fielders?"
I said, "That's the second baseman."
"I don't get it," she said.
"Strategy," I said... and that's the last we spoke of it. That's because it is.
It's a game of wits and smarts and strategy and the idea of putting an "illegal defense" rule into effect seems absolutely silly when these players are seasoned for years on how to play the game and hit the ball correctly. Teach batters to spray the field and be confident doing it, and we wouldn't be talking about this!
I leave you with this quote: "Keep your eye clear, and hit 'em where they ain't." That's old school and that's from Willie Keeler. That's baseball, ladies and gentlemen, and "they" means the fielders.
There is nothing easy about baseball. Strategy vs. Strategy. Team vs. Team. Now... get out there, see the field, and figure it out.
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