MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is apparently unsatisfied by fighting like hell to keep minor leaguers in a state of virtual poverty. He has therefore embarked on a new quest to explore hitherto unknown heights of contempt for the lower levels of baseball’s talent pyramid: gleefully allowing independent-league players to risk injury as guinea pigs for possible major league rule changes.
It’s the last one that has folks concerned. Moving the mound back should have the effect of lowering strikeouts and increasing the number of balls put in play, both of which are changes which baseball is actively pursuing.
But while there is likely to be an aesthetic improvement, any disruption of a pitchers’ routine is going to come with the real fear of injury. Their elbows and shoulders are fragile enough at the best of times, and having the distance between the mound and home plate changed midseason as part of an experiment clearly does not constitute ‘the best of times’.
Given the chance to help assuage that fear, Manfred instead laughed at it. When Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay, interviewing the commissioner in New York, brought up the worry that indy-league pitchers might be putting themselves at risk of serious injury in order to test these rule changes out, all Manfred could muster in reply was: “That’s why we’re doing it in the Atlantic League.”
A joke, obviously. But jokes often betray the worldview of the joker, and in Manfred’s case we have years of baseball slowly commodifying its players. Under his watch, the middle has been squeezed out of the MLB ecosystem while minor leaguers have had to fight efforts to legislate away their right to be paid a minimum wage.
Players still matter, but they matter, after a rigorous cost-benefit analysis, as organizational assets. And indy leaguers? Well, given their extremely low chances of ever getting to the show, they’re not much good even as that. Their ligaments, therefore, shall be offered up to the baseball gods. May they reduce strikeouts — and, more importantly, boost MLB viewership — in return.