One bold manager could end baseball’s nightmare

Atlanta’s Brian Snitker has used 21 pitchers this season. Could he be the one to step up and end baseball’s nightmare over so many relief pitchers? (Photo by Mike Morrow)

Tony La Russa started this. It will take only one manager with backbone to do something about it.

Another string of lousy relief pitchers has descended on baseball this season. It’s too bad so many of the pitchers aren’t actually good enough to be on major league rosters. Yet managers throughout the game persistently replace good starting pitchers with not just one inferior pitcher but a relentless line of them. Every game.

A 3-year-old would know not to take a player out of the game and knowingly, intentionally replace him with a worse player, then another, and another. But current big-league managers can’t help themselves. “That’s the way it’s done,” they conclude. So they follow their own flawed logic and subject the rest of us to bad baseball.

La Russa revolutionized the handling of pitching staffs in the 1980s, daring to bring in a pitcher to pitch to one batter, then another pitcher with a similarly prescribed brief appearance. La Russa’s strategy worked. His Oakland A’s won. In fact, they dominated, winning the American League pennant 1988-1990 and winning the World Series in 1989. As is the way things work in baseball, the rest of the teams followed suit, figuring that’s the way to win championships.

But they carried it to extremes, and we’re all left with the mess we have today. Someone should lock the bullpens and educate the managers on the fundamentals of professional sports. The best players should play. The worst players should watch.

All the baseball people who tried to follow La Russa’s lead got it wrong. They didn’t pay attention. La Russa brought in good pitchers. On top of that, in 1989 he used only 16 different pitchers all season. A typical major league manager today goes through that many pitchers in six weeks.

It is, of course, interesting that La Russa, current manager of the White Sox, is following the same current trend. He has already used as many pitchers this season (18) as he did in 1989.

It makes no sense to promote any game as a match-up between two outstanding starting pitchers when managers make them both irrelevant to the outcome of the game. Two five-inning starters is not a pitchers’ duel.

Of the top 100 pitchers in total innings pitched in the history of big-league baseball, not one — not one — is an active pitcher.

It takes only one manager to step forward, declare that the best pitchers will pitch, and let starting pitchers go deeper into games. If the pitcher can pitch nine innings, great. If he can pitch every fourth day, great. Don’t say it can’t be done. It has been done. All it takes is one manager to set an example. When the rest see a better way to approach baseball games, it will end this dark age of pitching in baseball.

And before anyone yells Tommy John, Tommy John, Tommy John, if you are worried that some pitiful pitcher might hurt his little arm, consider the fact John pitched 4,710 innings, ranking 19th all-time, and roughly half of those came after the surgery.

It is curious that if a pitcher has a no-hitter going, he is instantly deemed able to pitch nine innings. Does the manager not care about that pitcher’s health?

With today’s managers, the tendency is to point to what other teams are doing in order to justify so many pitching changes. But that is like the child who gets into trouble and points the finger at what another kid is doing. The child’s mother says, “I’m not talking about what the other child did, I’m talking about what you did.” Each baseball team should look at what its own narrow-minded manager is doing. Tell that manager to be bold and use his own head. If he simply can’t think for himself, find another head.

The formula today is that no pitcher can throw more than 100 pitches, or roughly five innings, before being rescued by his manager. Pitchers today are bigger, stronger and better trained than at any time in the history of the game. A good pitcher should be throwing more innings, not fewer.

Want to shorten the time it takes to play a game? Make fewer pitching changes. Want to improve the quality of the competition? Make fewer pitching changes.

Managers can’t wait to use middle relievers. When the All-Star Game is played, check to see how many middle relievers are on the rosters. By definition, apparently, middle relievers are not considered very good. So why bring so many pitchers who are not very good into so many games?

It takes only one bold manager to change this. If that manager wins, the rest will follow, and this nightmare will end.

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