No Pepper Games: Shiftless
Post by Cincinnatus Van... on 6/18/2012 10:00am
Innovation must cease. Tinkering must desist.
Some things are perfect and should be left alone.
It is thus with baseball.
Ron Roenicke must be stopped, for he is toying with elemental forces that he can neither control nor comprehend.
As manager of the Milwaukee Brewers Ron Roenicke has done an outstanding job in his first season-and-a-half among us. Last year the Brewers knocked on the gates of glory. This year, despite a disabled list longer than General Pickett's at Gettysburg, he has gamely fielded a lineup every day, and kept the team from free fall.
But he has gone too far. He has rent the fabric of the game itself. He has stolen the Sorcerer’s magic hat. He has the monkey's paw. He has opened Pandora's Box.
I can only speak in whispered tones of “the shift.”
Somewhere a soulless computer spits out something called a "spray chart.” Every ball batted by every batter is plotted, mapped, and cataloged. This is knowledge man was never meant to have. Like DNA, atomic energy, and Auto-Tune, such knowledge has the power to help us or destroy all we hold dear.
Roenicke does not place his defenders where they should be. Roenicke places his defenders where the ball is most likely to go.
This is heresy.
Basketball specifies a surfeit of unenforced and unenforceable zones in which LeBron James may or may not apply a forearm to Kevin Durant.
Football, the Elysium of lawyers, legislates how many men can be at the line of scrimmage, what formations those men assume, what jersey numbers the receivers may wear and who may touch the ball.
Baseball needs no such nagging, pettifogging rules. The book of baseball merely tells us that the defense shall consist of a pitcher and a catcher, and seven other fielders.
A deeper, elemental law guides the placement of the fielders.
Three men go off the map and into the outfield, the domain of monsters. Like the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria.
Four men guard the infield. Like the four points of the compass.
Those four men in the infield each guard a bag, and a shortstop covers the ground between second and third.
Two men are to the left of the mound and two men are to the right.
Who cannot look on such an arrangement and marvel at its perfection?
It has been thus ever since the New York Knickerbockers Base Ball Club put down bases in the Elysian Fields and first cried "Play Ball!”
It was thus when the Cubs last won a World Series with Tinker, Evers, and Chance arranged properly across the infield. No tinkering. No chances. For it was ever thus.
It was thus when your great-grandfather watched baseball, when your grandfather watched baseball.
Drop the needle on your Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack and sing with me. Tradition!
There are times, of course, when the gods come down from Olympus, the world goes mad, and the normal rules must be suspended. In 1946 the St. Louis Cardinals faced the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. The Red Sox featured the immortal Ted Williams.
The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived. The Kid. Teddy Ballgame.
For this occasion, a god playing against mere mortals. Eddie Dyer, the Cards manager, moved his shortstop to the right hand side of the infield.
It worked. Williams hit a paltry .200 with one RBI, and the series went to the Cardinals. 56 years later, we still speak of "The Williams Shift" in the same reverent tones we speak of David's one-hitter against Goliath.
Roenicke, on the other hand, seems to think that such heterodoxy can be used against such non-luminaries as the Mets' Ike Davis. Mr. Roenicke, all of your "science" may have robbed this workaday grunt of his single, but at what cost?
Pawns do not cluster on one side of the chessboard. All things have their place.
Who is on first. What is on second. I Don't Know is on third.
I Don't Give A Darn. He's our shortstop.
I Don't Give A Darn does not come over into What's territory leaving I Don't Know to cover half the infield alone. Who thinks up such an arrangement?
Do not show me facts. Do not cloud the issue with mere data. I have seen too much tampering with the Grand Old Game in my lifetime. Galileo must recant, and all must be as it was.
I have seen the "wild card,” whereby the mediocre can back into the postseason's pantheon. I have seen "interleague play,” the miscegenation of the American and National Leagues. I have even seen the "Designated Hitter,” which substitutes slugging for strategy and which stinks in the nostrils of the Lord.
This tinkering must be stopped. I have the tar, you bring the feathers. Once Mr. Roenicke has been shown the error of his ways, we shall go after the man who decided it was a good idea to play "YMCA" between innings.