The Bob Gibson Initiative and the Cardinal Compromise

So, it’s lunchtime, and you drop into your favorite deli for your usual ham-and-swiss on a kaiser roll.

“Hey, Murray,” you warmly greet your friend behind the counter. “My usual.”

“Right,” he says.  “That’ll be one pastrami with extra mustard and double pickles.”

“No, Murray.  Ham-and-swiss.  You know.”

“Not today, pal.”

“What?”

“I get double the mark-up on the pastrami as I do the ham.  Ditto the mustard and the pickles.”

“But I hate pastrami.  And your mustard gives me heartburn.”

“No problem. I’ll toss in a small bottle of Pepto for $10.”

“I don’t want Pepto.  Or pastrami and mustard, for that matter.”

“Tough tiddly.”

“What bread are you putting that on?”

“It’s the rye.”

“I’m allergic to rye.  You know that.”

“Pal, you got me confused with someone who cares.  Now, you’re taking the big bag of chips today.  Let’s see, you’re getting the 42-ounce soda, too.”

“That’s more soda than I drink in a year.”

“You’re welcome.  Add in a 35% tip, and lunch comes to $38.67.”

“I don’t want any of this stuff.  Not one thing in here.”

“Sounds like a personal problem to me.  I do counselling for $150 an hour, do you want me to schedule a session for you.”

“No. I just want my ham-and-swiss on a roll.”

“For the last time, bud, that’s not happening.  Tell you what, though, we’ll call it an even $40 and ‘ll let you off with the small bag of chips. Now, let’s have your card.”

Whether or not – in this situation – you would have the temerity to walk out or allow yourself to be intimidated into paying $40 for a lunch you will only throw away, one thing is very clear.

You will never go back to that deli.

You see, you, the customer, don’t exist to make sure this deli’s profit margins stay high.  The deli exists to provide you the dining experience you are seeking at a competitive price.  That’s how business rolls in these much advertised United States of America.  And when the tail tries to wag the dog – as in the scenario I’ve just presented – it tosses out the very foundation that a capitalist society is built on.

It causes a disturbance in the force.

And yet, in spite of the commonality of this knowledge, the ownership of America’s major league baseball franchises are casually tossing about the notion of a “universal designated hitter” as a bone in the current negotiations with the players union.  This, in spite of the fact that they know full well that the overwhelming majority of National League fans abhor the abomination of the designated hitter.

It is, in fact, treated as a foregone conclusion that we have seen the last of pitchers taking their rightful place in the batter’s box.  The general response to the fan’s objections is commonly phrased as “tough tiddly. You better get used to the DH, because you don’t have a choice.”

Hoping for common sense to prevail in a situation already devoid of all sense except nonsense is a tenuous position at best.  Nonetheless, I go on hoping that the powers that be will understand that alienating one half of your fan base on the heels of a work stoppage that will have them already soured on baseball is not a great business plan.

Sadly, the attitude seems to be that we are little more than sheep who will let them do anything they want to what was once a perfect game.  They once thought that way about the players, too, until the players proved to have more grit and determination than they anticipated.  Now, I’m afraid, it’s our turn to show a little grit and determination.

The truth of the situation is that we, the fans, have all the leverage.  All of this very large pile of money that these two sides are going to scratch and claw for derives from us.  They, without us, are nothing.  We, on the other hand – however fond of baseball we may be – have many other options for our entertainment dollar.  If baseball’s ownership isn’t bright enough to recognize where the balance of power here lies – and that’s the direction that things seem to be headed – then the next response will have to be ours.

Here’s my fear.

First of all, I abhor the designated hitter, and the thought of having to deal with it permanently churns my stomach. (For an in-depth discussion of the reasons why the NL should continue to reject this silliness, click here.  This discussion goes well beyond the usual generalities of “oh, you know, the tradition, and, oh, you know, the strategy.”)

The issue, though, is deeper.  It’s well known that the powers that be are all about tinkering with the game.  These addled souls are laboring under the delusion that there must be some way to turn the short-attention-span, MTV generation into baseball fans.  That is the impetus behind the three-batter rule and the foolishness of seven-inning doubleheaders and beginning any extra-inning with an automatic runner at second.  There is much further that they could push.  And if they get away with this – if they can shove this undesired rule down our throats without consequence – then who knows where they may push things.

So, to keep the DH – and any other bizarre alterations – well at bay, we may have to assert the strength of our position.  If that opportunity comes before they do anything stupid, that would be optimal.  If not, then we may be forced to make them suffer after the fact.

I propose a strategy and a compromise.

Strategically, the only way we move them is to close your wallet.  Even a partial reduction of your financial footprint will have an impact.  If you usually go to 40 games a year, go to 15.  If you usually watch 100 games a year, watch 40.

If you have an MLB.TV subscription, cancel it.

Turning off the TV will be especially important during the playoffs.  The ink is still dry on an enormous national deal that MLB signed at the end of last season.  The contract depends heavily on the postseason, as that is when ratings tend to be the highest.  If viewership falls off notably (and even a 15-20% decline would be catastrophic) the owners will come quickly to understand that we are not a factor to be trifled with.

Sadly, by then, it may be too late.

My game plan – which I have called the Bob Gibson Initiative, in honor of the great Cardinal pitcher who was also a very dangerous presence as a hitter – comes with a work around for fans who aren’t thrilled with the concept of a five-year baseball fast.  There are several resources already in place that can adequately scratch that baseball itch.

First, let me recommend the radio.  Yes, MLB sees a profit from sale of radio rights.  These, I assure you, are far below the monies realized from television broadcasts.  In most communities, the radio version of the game is every bit as good as – and most of the time superior to – the televised version.  That is certainly true in St Louis, where John Rooney and Ricky Horton provide as clean and as engaging a baseball experience as you will find anywhere in the country.

After the fact, the radio commentary can be augmented with video from a several sources – a couple provided by MLB itself.

You won’t find it there now, of course, because the website (mlb.com) has pulled all of last year’s baseball content due to the expiration of the CBA.  But once baseball is back, all of their game summaries will come with a video tab.  On this tab, you will find all the video highlights from the game, including one called the “condensed game.”  Catching the radio broadcast, and then watching these highlights, can – all by themselves – give you the feeling of having watched the game.

If that isn’t enough, there are a couple more resources you should be aware of.

This is the MLB Film Room.  Again, it is pretty vacant now, but during the season – if there is a season – every pitch thrown during the season ends up here.  The filters take a little time to master, but this site will allow you – if you want – to watch every single pitch from any game you might have missed.

Both of these MLB resources aren’t immediate with the results.  You can’t actually watch the game in the Film Room as it’s happening.  But the lapse isn’t all that long.  I would usually catch up with all of them the next day, although I’m sure they are available much sooner than that.

Even better, in my opinion, is the Statcast site.  From this site, you can not only glean all kinds of wonderful information – the speed of the pitch, the exit velocity, the distance of the hit, and more – but they also have video of every pitch made during the season.

Of note is the fact that this site only updates once a day (in the morning), so if you go this route you will certainly be talking about next-day viewing.

The search engine here isn’t that difficult to get on top of, and (don’t tell anyone) but as of this writing (December 9) the video results from the season are still available here. (Either this site isn’t subject to the CBA, or no one has yet thought to remove the video from here.) I recommend anyone curious about this to go to this site, play with the search engine, and replay a game from 2021 (no guarantee is given that the video here will last).

For your information, in anticipation of the coming circumstances, I used all of these resources almost exclusively last baseball season.  I attended no games in person, and watched maybe three or four games on TV.  Yet, I ran my blog the entire season with no loss of connection.  I exit the season feeling even more satisfied than in seasons when I watched (in person or on TV) many more games.

If it becomes necessary, I am certain that all of these resources will adequately get us through – even if we have to mini-boycott for the entire five years of the new agreement – if and when it is signed.

The Compromise

Now, I understand that the Union is out for blood this year.  Since they feel they signed a bad agreement last time, their pride will compel them into “no compromise at all” mode.  Realizing that the desires of the fans and the correctness of the game means little to them, I have a compromise to offer them that I believe will be enticing to them.  I call it the “Cardinal Compromise.”

They, of course, crave the Universal DH because that will create 15 more starting positions.  Fine.  They want 15 more DH’s, let’s give them 15 more DH’s.  But let’s keep them in the American League.

In exchange for allowing the National League to maintain its integrity, let’s add a second DH to the American League lineups.  But – since we are amending this experiment – let’s fix at least one of the broken pieces of this ineffectual rule.  Give the AL two DH’s, but don’t require one of them to hit for the pitcher.  Let the manager decide which two players will play defense only.

Of course, in the vast majority of cases, the managers will choose to hit for their pitchers.  But under this amendment, the Angels will no longer be penalized on days they want Shohei Ohtani to both hit AND pitch.  For them to do that now, they would have to abandon the DH entirely for that game – putting them at a strategic disadvantage after Ohtani exits a game – especially if he is knocked out early.

To account for the added position, the rosters in both leagues could be augmented by one – the National League getting that extra player since they will play ten or so games in American League parks.  This gives the Union not only the 15 new DH’s, but 30 additional roster spots they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. 

It should be enough to make everyone happy.  I can’t imagine that the American League will stress too much over the added DH.  Of the American League fans I know, I don’t think any of them understand why their lineup isn’t all DH’s anyway.

I’m sure, at first thought, this seems a bizarre compromise.  But if you can get past the initial shock of it and ponder it, you will come to see that this a very workable solution.  Here’s the caveat, though.  The Union gets the extra DH’s and roster spots as long as they understand that the DH issue in the National League is now closed.  We can’t go through this every five years.  Let’s decide this, once and for all.

If, at some point in the future, National League fans should actually desire the DH rule, then – of course – the discussion should be re-opened.  But failing that, let’s put an end to this debate.

I want to be clear about this.

I will never support the DH.  If, however, the day should come that the majority of National League fans should crave this, then it would behoove baseball to give them what they want – just as it behooves them now to give the fans what they want.  I won’t offer any objections.  The desires of the fans should always be the standard.

The owners and players have every right to debase themselves in their squabbling over who gets most of the big pile of money.  Honestly, we wouldn’t expect anything else from them.

But the issue of the Designated Hitter in the National League is not their issue to decide.  Here, they need to hearken to the consumer.

The owners’ relative boldness in this issue comes, I believe,  from their belief that the fans lack either the organization or the motivation to push back on this issue.  They are critically wrong in both assumptions.  Impacting their bottom line by at least 15% – a devastating occurrence for them – is not an unreachable goal.

Are there enough National League fans who hate the DH to cause this kind of financial impact.  Clearly there are.  We just have to set our minds to doing it.

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