March 19, 2013
Baseball's Great Unresolved Debates
The American and National Leagues are two distinct leagues in name only. They act more like conferences than leagues, with no league presidents, relatively newfound player mobility, and now constant interleague play. But they continue to operate under a different set of rules, and to some that makes no sense. The DH debate must be settled, the argument goes. Standardize it in, say the progressives, and standardize it out, say the traditionalists, but standardize it soon.
It’s among the most difficult problems facing the union and management over the coming years, as it impacts rosters and player salaries. While the role of full-time designated hitter may someday wash away completely, the average primary designated hitter in 2011 made $8.3 million.
Yet, as the game faces calls for the NL to give in after 14 decades of pitchers hitting or for the AL to cave on what was by many accounts a successful 40-year experiment, there are far more important debates that have still not been settled. Vital issues that challenge baseball every day and that have laughably seen no resolution.
Before even considering what should become of the DH rule, Major League Baseball must take a long and hard look at its real foundational debates or face a future that it probably does not want to envision.
1. What is the singular of Red Sox?
Is Xander Bogaerts a future “Red Sock” or is he a future “Red Sox?” Is it different if you’re saying it or typing it? Should it just be avoided at all costs in favor of saying that he’s a “future member of the Red Sox” or just a “Honkbal wizard?” And what is the possessive, “Red Sox’” or “Red Sox’s?”
For one point of view from somebody who deals with this problem in writing and presumably in speech every day, we turn it over to Providence Journal Red Sox beat writer, BP guest author, and good human being Tim Britton, who is a reluctant member of Team “A Red Sox.”
2. How many games over .500 are you?
Please fix this at your earliest convenience, baseball.
3. What is the proper abbreviation for the White Sox?
Some are inconsistent, though, and the most maddening of these is how to abbreviate the Chicago White Sox.
To help sort this out, SBNation.com columnist, BP alumna and real-life White Sox sympathizer Cee Angi offered her services.
4. Do the standings have to go East, Central, West?
It goes East, Central, West pretty much everywhere that doesn’t have a home division. (My old paper, the Houston Chronicle, listed the Central first and will have to shake that up this year when the hometown Astros are shipped west without moving.)
It’s the order in which baseball moved, with the original teams mostly in the East and then the game spreading westward. It’s also the opposite of how you’d expect to see it, combining how we traditionally read a map with how we read the English language.
But is it time for East-Central-West to be codified?
5. Is it on-base percentage or on-base average?
It’s not a percentage. Percentage has that root for 100 right in the middle there, and we’ve just decided to ignore it. A good on-base percentage isn’t .350. It’s 35. It’s an average, though barely an average. It’s an average of 1s for times reaching base and 0s for times not.
On-base average, which has really caught on only with wOBA or weighted on base average, is a great way to sound intellectually superior and also sound like kind of a jerk. But it’s also right, unlike the idiotic RsBI plural.
We’ve just come too far with OBP to try to change it now. Sort of like we have with the DH.
Feel free to use the comments section to weigh in on these vital debates and suggest more that need to be addressed. For the children.