Well, we have reached that point in the season. Tonight we will watch the last regular games of the regular season. The last games in which we see the products of your favorite GMs wheeling and dealing. The last games in which you will see the intricate maneuvers of your manager to get the lone remaining lefty in the pen in the game to face the lone remaining lefty on the opposition bench.
After tonight, the floodgates open and not even the state legislature of Arizona can stop them all from arriving.
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
As the minor league seasons of the various farm teams end we see more prospects, speedsters, and lefties brought up to supplement the major league rosters. They are there to show what they can do or supplement what the roster has been unable to do to this point.
In the midst of pennant races, we get to see guys who are fighting for jobs, have no future-types, pheenoms, looking for one last gaspers, prospects, the not-ready-for-prime-time-players, enter games or face teams battling for the postseason, as pinch-hitters, pinch-runners, pinch-fielders, spot starters, face one batter relievers, occupy the bench, occupy the bullpen, and occupy the on-deck circle, all when it counts the most.
Instead of choosing the entrees at a fine restaurant, managers now have an in-game spread from the Old Country Kitchen buffet. Now managers can use their pinch-hitters in the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 8th and 9th innings and still have plenty of three-bean salad left if they get hungry in extra innings.
Don’t expect to see pitcher Roy Oswalt in the outfield or coming up to hit in extra-innings, there will seemingly be dozens of players for managers to use in these critical situations. Some will be stars for their teams. That is what happened with Chone Figgins and Francisco Rodriguez. Don’t forget David Price joined the Rays and was lights out coming out of the bullpen.
Some will impact a single game or have a shining moment. Others will be the answer to trivia questions. Take the kid for the Orioles who made his major league debut on September 13, 1998. Then one week later, on September 20, 1998, Ryan Minor played the first full game of his career as he replaced Cal Ripken Jr. in the Orioles lineup and ended Ripken’s consecutive game streak.
Baseball is a game with rules that are logical, methodical, and precise. There are 90 feet between the bases and 60 feet six inches from the mound to the plate. Every ballpark has those dimensions. Starting tomorrow, teams will be stocked with 25, 28, 33 or who knows how many players. From April to September every team has 25 on their MLB roster. But in the baseball rulebook listed under arcane it states that teams on Sept. 1 can begin calling up anyone on their 40-man roster. Anyone, up to 40.
Doug Melvin, the GM of the Brewers doesn’t like the concept. “You play 80 percent of your season with even rosters,” Melvin told Mark Bowman of MLB.com last year, “and then all of a sudden, you throw that out. It’s like playing three-on-six in basketball or 11-on-18 in football. I don’t know of any sport in the world that does it like ours, with this kind of imbalance of rosters. I’d like to find out if there’s any other sport that does that at the most important time of the year.”
“I actually don’t like it,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona told Newman. “I think there needs to be some amendments to the rules. I understand why you call up players. I think that’s great. But you play all year under one set of rules and then, all of a sudden, Sept. 1, and it’s vastly different.”
Melvin even has interesting way of how to compromise the situation, he suggests a taxi squad, in which teams can call up players, up to 40, but only 30 are eligible for each game being designated by the manager before the start of the game.
Francona supports the concept and other managers like Joe Torre would prefer to keep the limit to 25. Torre told Kevin Baxter of the LA Times, “Basically you can get knocked out of the pennant race by a guy who played double A or something and has had four at-bats in the big leagues.”
Dusty Baker, a three-time September call-up himself, has a different perspective now as manager of the Reds, “The whole time I was playing and managing, you don’t like to face some young starter if you don’t know him. By the time you’ve figured him out, he’s already out of the ballgame.”
Baxter does an excellent job explaining how the rule originated and why it is no longer needed, “Once upon a time the rule had a purpose. When organizations had more than a dozen minor league affiliates and hundreds of players under contract, September call-ups gave teams a chance to evaluate prospects in person before deciding what to do with them. But now, with video and scouting reports available from every game, teams already have a wealth of information on their minor leaguers.”
The point that Baxter makes is clear, like many rules in religions that were created in ancient times, this rule is dated. Not only is it obsolete, but also the expansion of the rosters is to detriment of the quality of the games when the games mean the most.
I hope that in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, this is an issue that is discussed and addressed. However, until that time we just have to deal with it. So enjoy the games today, the last before the great dilution begins.