JFtC Brings You A Look Around MLB Through Blue Jays Coloured Glasses. This week we examine the Blue Jays participation in the MLB London Series and how moving second base could affect game results.
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* MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and London mayor Sadiq Khan announced a long-term partnership between the league and the city Monday that includes regular-season games in 2023, 2024 and 2026, along with other major events over the next five years. In conjunction with its MLB Europe operations, MLB and the MLBPA have also agreed to specialized UK-focused initiatives and special events such as Home Run Derby X to further expand professional baseball’s footprint across the countries.
You may recall the 2019 two-game series between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. The games took place at a modified London Stadium Olympic Complex and drew sellout crowds of 60,000 for both games. More than 50 runs were scored during the series and on the whole baseball played well in a football and rugby crazed nation. Manfred in the league’s official press release noted that “All aspects of the inaugural MLB games in London were an overwhelming success.” Mayor Khan opined, “this long-term partnership with Major League Baseball is ambitious and includes regular season games as well as a legacy program designed to grow the number of Londoners watching and playing baseball at a grass roots level.” Social media outlets host dozens of UK and Europe-based fan groups. So it isn’t a stretch to imagine the London Series developing into an on-field and financial success long-term.
Since the announcement of the 3-year agreement to play regular season games in London, speculation has swirled around Blue Jays circles about the team’s participation in the 2023 series. Given the historical ties between Canada and the British Commonwealth, there would be no more natural franchise to represent MLB in the UK than Toronto. As mentioned previously, there is no shortage of UK-based Blue Jays fan groups and social media presence already in place to flock to London Stadium to root for the “home” team. MLB capitalized on the star power of Ichiro Suzuki when selecting teams to play series in Japan in 2012 and 2019. So precedent for designated clubs to participate in an international series. Same can be said for the Los Angeles Dodgers, L.A. Angels and San Diego Padres playing series hosted in Monterrey, Mexico over the years.
The Toronto Blue Jays playing a “home” series in London is a foregone conclusion. The current roster of young, dynamic stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Alek Manoah would provide an exciting baseball experience for nascent baseball fans-many of whom have family living in Canada. Not to mention the estimated 95,000 Canadian expats residing in the UK as of 2020 census statistics.
Let us propose making the Toronto Blue Jays the hosts for series played in 2023, 2024 and 2025. Too often the Jays have suffered from being the lone Canadian-based franchise in the league. The forced exile to Dunedin and Buffalo are fresh in all Toronto baseball fans’ minds. But the unfavorable exchange rates and perceived difficulties for players having to travel across the border and move to a “foreign” country since the club expanded into existence in 1977 (remember Mark Lemongello angrily asking press members if they spoke “American” in Canada?). Team Presidents Paul Beeston and Mark Shapiro spent energy and money cultivating a national identity for the Blue Jays across Canada. It is time for MLB to show a little respect for their Canadian franchise and give them the opportunity to be the league ambassadors for the UK.
If you are wondering which other teams might be logical opponents for the Jays in London, eastern U.S. cities like Boston (Red Sox), New York (Yankees or Mets) and Philadelphia (Phillies) pop up as solid opponents. But MLB may want to take a closer look at census data to see where the largest percentage of British diaspora reside. As of the 2020 U.S. census, Northern Virginia (11%-Washington Nationals), Michigan (9.99%-Detroit Tigers), and northeast and central Ohio (9.7%-Cleveland Indians) are home to largest percentage of British expats. Given the Montreal roots of the Nationals franchise, perhaps an ersatz all-Canadian interleague series between Washington and Toronto could be the 2023 match-up.
* Did you know that second base has been placed in the wrong position in the infield for more than 100 years?
Apparently the brain trust in the Commissioner’s Office have come to that conclusion and will begin experimenting at every level of the minor leagues with a new base alignment that will move second base 13.5 inches closer home plate. The current MLB rule book shows lines representing the base paths making their right turns on the diamond on the outer edges of first base and third base, but exactly in the middle of second base. Each 90-degree angle is 90 feet apart, which means the edges of the bases are all closer than 90 feet to the other. Moving the base would line up second base within that 90 degree area. The net result of the move would be to reduce the distance between first to second and second to third base to 87 feet; currently the distances are 88.5 feet.
MLB has already announced the implementation of larger bases beginning in 2023, citing player safety concerns as the primary reason for the changes. MLB and the MLBPA are hoping the larger bases will give runners and first basemen more surface area to share in bang-bang plays. Twisted ankles are always a concern, so this could help to mitigate that risk. It will also reduce the number of spike attempts from players sliding in, while also helping players not get their hands stepped on. This change could also serve to limit the ever-frustrating over-slide, where a player beats a throw but passes the bag by before getting tagged out.
The unspoken hopes for the implementation of larger bases concerns an increase of action-related results on the field. More area to grab onto should make it easier to steal bases. MLB has not seen a player steal 50 bases in a season since 2017. An increase in base stealing would also require a shift in mindset from power numbers to “small ball”. Attempts to stretch a single into a double might be less risky from an analytics point of view, since a larger base surface would make it more difficult for a shortstop or second baseman to apply the tag to a player sliding behind the bag. When you add the split second difference the reduced distance between second base and the corner bases, an increase in steals and aggressive baserunning could very well be a welcome addition to the way the games is played going forward.
The base movement will take place during the second half of the MiLB seasons and no concrete plans to make the change to major league diamonds have been announced. The Commissioner’s Office has also not yet addressed whether the Tampa Bay Rays would be required to alter their primary logo to represent such a change. As it is now, second base is already further from home plate and the corner bases than it should be.
*Featured Images Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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Jersey born, Pittsburgh resident, baseball lifer. Staff Writer jaysfromthecouch.com. Host THE ON FEK CIRCLE on JFtC YouTube Channel. Regular guest on Jays From the couch Radio Podcast. Established WPPJ Rock-a-thon benefit, which has been broadcast annually since 1981 and has raised for than $500,000 for the Early Learning Institute of Pittsburgh. IBWAA member.