Baseball's got a problem that I write about every time I can't remember the last time I wrote about it. Which means every two or three years, probably. Or to be precise, every two or three Septembers.
Here's the problem, via USA Today's Bob Nightengale:
It is the most asinine rule in baseball.
It directly impacts the pennant races, alters the integrity of the game, and could mean the difference between a team sitting home or playing in Game 7 of the World Series.
The September call-up rule, where teams are eligible to suit up 40 players every game in September while their opponent could have just 25 players, dramatically changes the rules at the seasno's most critical juncture.
"I'm still baffled by it,'' Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin says, "just from an integrity standpoint.
"There is no other competitive team sport that allows uneven rosters any time in the year. Any time in the year! And now, in the most important month , we're doing that.
"How does that make any sense?''
Well, it doesn't make much sense at all ... But let me try to defend the tradition.
As someone points out, there might be something to be said for rewarding teams with deep farm systems. Melvin's essentially arguing that it's unfair. But is it, really? The rules are the same for everybody. Doesn't that mean the expanded rosters are the opposite of unfair?
Also ... actually, that's all I've got. Yeah, it's nice that some young players get a taste of the majors. It's even nicer that some veteran minor leaguers -- those lucky enough to be on 40-man rosters, anyway -- finally get their taste of the majors, quite possibly their only taste. But these are good results rather than good reasons. Let's go back to The Fundamental Question: If you weren't already doing it this way, is this how you would do it?
Hell, I don't know. Maybe. It would be interesting to see the original rationale for the practice. Here's what I think, though. I think it's a remnant of the days before huge scouting departments and videotape and all the rest. I think it was done so managers could get their first-ever looks at some minor leaguers before off-season decisions had to be made.
Well, those days are gone. Dusty Baker doesn't need to see Billy Hamilton in September. They're doing this now mostly because they've been doing it for so long. Which is a reason, but not a good one. My biggest issue with the expanded rosters isn't that it's unfair. My issue is that now they're playing a slightly different game. The game does have a certain elegance for five months: Here are your 25 players, now go out and do what you can do with them. But in September, some teams carry 27 players and some carry 35, and already-bloated bullpens become unrecognizable.
It's just inelegant, is all. We should resist, with all our might, unnecessary inelegance.
Fortunately, it's possible that help is on the way:
Melvin, who proposed the rule change about seven years ago, now hopes it will be adopted in November at their GM meetings. Teams still will be permitted all of their call-ups, Melvin says, but only five will be eligible to play any given game, providing every manager a 30-man roster.
"At first I thought Doug was too extreme,'' Jocketty told USA TODAY Sports, "but I've come around to his way of thinking.''
Oh. So they might address the fairness issue in a small way, but most of the inelegance will remain. I suppose my priorities aren't shared by baseball executives. I know: shocking.
Still, Melvin's proposal would be a lot better than nothing. If only because it would at least get people in the habit of exploring changes to the current roster rules, which have been in place for many decades. I just don't think Melvin's proposal has much of a chance. Baseball executives -- and players, too; I assume the union would get involved here -- are generally conservative, so you should always expect inaction on anything that's been around for decades.