Sports Column | Les Winkeler: Holding out on America’s favorite pastime | Sports

Commissioner Rob Manfred and team owners: Good morning to you.

As a devoted baseball fan since 1961, I have just one question for the lot of you. Are you high?

At a time when the United States is experiencing internal political turmoil and a war in Europe hangs heavy over our hearts and minds each day, you have taken baseball away from us. Baseball has been a reliable source of distraction for American citizens, even in the darkest days of World War II.

The game is, by its nature, calming. It is, as the brilliant comedian George Carlin described it, pastoral.

And, not to be crass, it is also a cash cow. It generates enormous wealth. The game is awash in money. According to figures readily available on Google, the 32 major league franchises are valued at $66 billion – give or take a nickel or dime.

The net worth of the average major league player is $4.17 million.

Yet, your greed won’t allow you to find a way to fairly distribute those billions of dollars? OK, I misspoke earlier. I have one more question for you. Are your accountants and lawyers high too?

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Not only that, but in an effort to settle the lockout, there has been attempted agreement on rule changes that once again make me question your lucidity.

Ban the shift? Seriously?

No one, no one, despises the shift as much as I do. But, you’re going to sit in your offices and dictate to managers what kind of defense they can employ? Ridiculous.

Players and managers could make the shift irrelevant in a month if they had the guts to do it. The extreme shifts employed today frequently leave an entire side of the infield undefended. A couple three bunts daily for 7-10 days ought to fix that.

And, players like Tony Gwynn, Rod Carew, Wade Boggs and a host of others paved their road to Cooperstown by taking the ball the opposite way. Granted, not everyone is as talented as these guys, but why is it considered for difficulty to make contact and steer the ball to the opposite field then to turn on a 98-mph fastball and hit it 500 feet?

Playing smart baseball will lead to near extinction of the shift.

Another proposed rule change is larger bases. Some leagues tinkered with increasing the size from 15 to 18 inches last year.

Again, what are you thinking.

There is a moment in Ken Burn’s epic documentary “Baseball” where narrator Bob Costas waxes poetic about the perfect dimensions of the game. Except for the height of the mound and the individual dimensions of ballparks, baseball’s geometry has stood the test of time.

Game of inches? Watch instant replay and see how many plays are decided by fractions of inches.

How would the history of the game be different had bases always been larger? Would Don Denkinger have seen Todd Worrell’s foot on first base in the 1985 World Series if the bases were larger?

It may seem insignificant to the casual fan, but to a lifelong baseball junkie like me, that’s messing with the integrity of the game.

The one proposed rule change that is intriguing is a pitch clock. I have wondered for years why starters get the ball from the catcher, take the sign from the catcher and throw. Relievers, on the other hand, get the ball, walk behind the mound, rub up the ball, stare in at the catcher for interminable periods, step off the mound and start the process again.

If the rule was enforced, it could be helpful. But, then again, baseball supposedly doesn’t allow hitters to step out of the box.

At any rate, Commissioner Manfred and owners, clean up your darned mess.

LES WINKELER is the former sports editor of The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at, on Twitter @LesWinkeler.


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