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May 22, 2013

The Lineup Card

7 Baseball Firsts We Expect to See in Our Lifetimes

by Baseball Prospectus

​1. A 250-Strikeout Hitter
While covering the Pirates on a regular basis from 1988-2009, I tried to find as many things as I could to stay interested in one losing season after another. One of those came in 2003, when the Pirates seemingly ran up the white flag on ever winning by trading blossoming star Aramis Ramirez and leadoff hitter Kenny Lofton to the Cubs for the funny and profane Bobby Hill, journeyman Jose Hernandez, and minor-league pitcher Matt Bruback, who never made the major leagues but is making a positive impact on people’s lives.

At the time of the July 21 trade, Hernandez had 121 strikeouts in just 92 games and had a legitimate shot at becoming the first major-league player ever to fan 200 times in one season. Voila! I thought I had something to pique my interest for the final 10 weeks of another desolate season. However, it didn’t happen. Hernandez miraculously started making consistent contract once he put on the Pirates uniform and finished with 177 strikeouts, even less than his previous two seasons when he punched out 185 and 188 times for the Brewers.

It seemed to me at that point that the 200-K barrier was unreachable. Alas, Mark Reynolds finally broke through with 204 punchies in 2008 for the Diamondbacks, then easily surpassed that mark with 223 the following season, which still stands as the record. Reynolds also whiffed 211 times in 2010. Since then, Drew Stubbs (205, 2011 Reds) and Adam Dunn (222, 2012 WhiteSox) have also joined the club.

Now that 200 strikeouts have been surpassed, the next frontier is 250. I’m 49, so they better hurry, but I’m sure it is going to happen in my lifetime. —John Perrotto

2. Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame
Eventually, the right gatekeepers will come along and realize that a small but weighty portion of tragic infamy strengthens—not besmirches—the Hall of Fame. A little poison is fortifying. Honoring men in whom greatness was at war with arrogance or ignorance—all greatness carries its own disease—will deepen our appreciation of baseball’s historical and moral burden. We have already reached the point with Shoeless Joe Jackson at which he should be in the Hall of Fame not despite his involvement in the Black Sox Scandal but because of it: 1919 is an essential part of the game’s legacy (and of our culture’s; see Field of Dreams etc.), and Jackson’s complicated presence in the narrative makes him an emblem whom the Hall should hang gravely, in acknowledgment, appreciation, and caution.

As for Rose, what we’re really trying to avoid is not giving him his plaque but allowing him to live to celebrate (and profit from, and gloat about) it. After he dies, perhaps long after, it will be safe to put the Hit King in the Hall, because we’ll be able to keep his ego out of it. We’ll recall the hits and the hustle, while memory of the hatefulness long recedes. He can be hung next to Ty Cobb, his spiritual baseball brother both on the field and off it. —Adam Sobsey

3. A Baseball Movie Will Win "Best Picture"
I'd prefer some sort of odds on this or some insurance against there being no such thing as movies or the Oscars (or me) at any point soon. But while it may not be a 50 percent chance, I foresee a reasonable chance that an Oscar night ceremony ends with a celebratory dog pile on stage some day. To date, there have been four baseball movies nominated for Best Picture—1942's The Pride of the Yankees about Lou Gehrig, 1989's Field of Dreams, which was the only nominee from the golden age of baseball movies, 2011's Moneyball about the Oakland A's, and a 2010 longshot called 127 Hours about a Josh Beckett start.

But it's not like sports movies have been entirely dismissed, especially recently. Since the nominations expanded from five to somewhere in the neighborhood of 9-10, there has been a sports movie on the list of nominees three of the four years, and three sports movies have won best picture: Rocky, Chariots of Fire, and Million Dollar Baby.

I don't think 42 is baseball's shot, though I wouldn't be surprised at all to see it nominated. The best chance I envision would be if The Art of Fielding finds its way to the screen. That's a book that seems to have everything that Oscar reviewers would be looking for and didn't go wide enough in the mainstream that it would be judged only in the shadow of the novel like, say, The Great Gatsby.

We hear every day in over-the-top commentary that some baseball story is so straight-outta-Hollywood that it should be a movie. Maybe some day one of them will be good. —Zachary Levine

4. The DH in the National League
It's gonna happen. I know that this irritates some of you to no end, but it will happen.

Let's get this out of the way. Tradition. Sanctity. Bunting. Double Switches. Strategy. A general hatred of 11-9 games. That awkward moment when it's the sixth inning and your starter is throwing well, but it's a key situation with two outs and you have to decide whether to pinch-hit and go to the pen, or leave him in and basically chuck the at-bat. All of the arguments for keeping the DH center around good feelings about some traditional notion of what the game of baseball should be, rather than what really makes the game move.

And yes, the NL DH will happen in service of the almighty dollar. The DH was introduced in the AL in the '70s to increase offense and drive interest in the game. It did both, and plenty of people made out like bandits. The designated hitter is now the most-highly-paid position on the diamond... erm, off the diamond. The players like that. Influential "veterans" who can't field anymore can still cash in one more time, and keep alive their drives for meaningless (but soooooo profitable at the gate) milestones like 3000 hits. And with the dawn of the $25-million-per-year contract for the top-line starter (and the $15 million one for the decent starter), teams are probably ever-more skittish about letting him bat when there's a perfectly good rule change that could negate the need for that. Teams can also nurture those crowd-pleasing all-bat, no-field players in their farm system without worrying about the whole "he's a butcher in left field" thing. Everyone wins. You might consider the DH to be low-brow culture, but there's a reason that Justin Bieber exists. And it's the same reason that the DH is coming to an NL park near you, like it or not.

About the only thing standing in the way of the DH in the National League is the traditionalist argument, the same way that it was trotted out against the cash cow that was interleague play. Sixteen years later, the Twins will play the Braves tonight, and baseball will somehow survive. In fact, no one will really notice. Just like how a couple years after the inevitable happens, we'll look around and vaguely remember that it was ever any different. —Russell A. Carleton

5. A Commissioner Not Named Bud Selig
As you might know, Bud Selig has decided to retire. By my count* this will mark the 70th time he’s decided to retire. When it’s announced, balloons will fall from drop ceilings everywhere, and a middle manager will show up with a comically oversized check for $1,000.00 to Selig’s favorite charity.

Bud Selig retires like some of us leave parties. We say we’re going over and over, but it never quite seems to happen. In fact, when Bud Selig says the word “retire,” he instinctively makes those little air quotes with his fingers. MLB rule 43-B.14 requires you to make air quotes with your fingers when you read the name “Bud Selig” and the word “retire” in the same sentence. If you read them out of order, you have to go back and repeat the sentence with the air quotes.

*In other words, a number I just made up.

Yet, Bud Selig is not young. He is 78 years old. The oldest man still alive is 116 years old, assuming he hasn’t died while I type this sentence. That means, at most, Selig has 38 more years to be the commissioner of baseball. That assumes there haven’t been huge medical advances in those 38 years that would increase Selig’s lifespan. Considering the many advances science has made in the field of human health, it seems safe to assume Selig will be able to undergo Cyborg-ization surgery. This will not only increase his lifespan, but also his ability to relate to people by 50 percent. At that point, 116-year-old CyborgSelig will announce he is retiring from commissioner effective in five years.

This will be the year 2051. Nuclear-waste-powered cars will fly through the air emitting only flowers from their exhaust pipes. Environmental problems and traffic will be things of the past. I’ll be 75 years old. Assuming a normal lifespan (I don’t have the money for cyborg-ization surgery), I’ll die at 76 years old. That means CyborgSelig will have to avoid a battery pack mishap, falling down a well, getting shot by laser cats or whatever other calamities can befall a cyborg for only one year before he’ll outlive… rats.

Never mind. —Matthew Kory

6. An Openly Gay Manager
American sports is undergoing a major change in attitudes toward openly gay athletes. An active NBA player came out for the first time only a few weeks ago. According to former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendan Ayanbadejo, who has been a public advocate of gay rights, there are several NFL players who are considering coming out in unison. Baseball won’t be that far behind.

What may take some more time is for an openly gay man to become a coach or manager. It took 15 years after Jackie Robinson’s debut with the Dodgers before Negro Leagues star Buck O’Neil was hired as a coach by the Chicago Cubs (and even then, he wasn’t quite treated on par with white coaches). Robinson didn’t even get to live to see Frank Robinson become the first black manager in 1975.

Coaches, and especially managers, face burdens beyond players when it comes to the public eye. Whereas Jackie Robinson had veterans like Pee Wee Reese to rely on for clubhouse support as a signal to other players he wasn’t alone, managers are expected to command respect without any outside help. That’s something that’ll probably only happen once there are a number of gay players who stick around the game for a while.

Still, being an openly gay public figure is much safer than it was even 10 years ago. In another 10 or 20 years, being the skipper of a baseball team will probably be only a minor blip on the radar. —Dan Rozenson

7. Robot Umpires
Everyone makes mistakes. But what happens when we have the technology to significantly reduce the number of errors made, if not entirely eradicate them? If you're Major League Baseball, you decide to limit the use of the technology. And so far, that decision has proven costly again and again and again and again and... oh, you get the picture.

All of those blown calls have occurred in less than two weeks. Many more will be made this season, and every season to follow, until MLB accepts expanded instant replay. However, I can envision a future in which our robot overlords invade the baseball realm, serving to provide definitive—and correct—calls on every play. Commissioner CyborgSelig will likely insist on using human umpires to preserve the "human element" of the game, but they will have to relay the RoboUmp calls, not their own. 

And who is to say that it stops at RoboUmps? When CyborgSelig gets shot by laser cats, falls down a well, and suffers a battery pack mishap following the 2051 season, remember to greet the new RoboCommissioner nicely. —Stephani Bee

44 comments have been left for this article.

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