When the Absurd Becomes the Norm

“All progress requires change, but not all change is progress.” — Dr. Josiah “Mort” Briggs, URI Emeritus, Professor of History

Dr. Briggs made this statement during a lecture in his “History of Science” course that I took. I am not sure why, but this always stuck with me. I remember jotting these words of wisdom in my notebook, but it has resonated in my mind ever since, ingrained for all time.

I am confident that it rings true in life and applies to sports as well.

I’ll give you an example. Anyone who has watched a lick of baseball in the last few years has noticed one dramatic change in philosophy: “The shift”.

How many times have you seen this recently?

Even tonight in the Boston Red Sox game vs. the Baltimore Orioles, the O’s shifted the entire infield (3rd baseman was almost behind 2nd base) for Stephen Drew with 2 outs and a runner on third base. Drew was batting .247, 12 HR, 62 RBI headed into this at-bat. What were the Orioles doing? Drew coudn’t be shift worthy with those numbers, right?

Don’t let the numbers fool you. Drew had an exceptionally better average with 2-outs and runners in scoring position. Drew walked, but if managers are doing it, it must have some value. Although I do not have the stats to represent the hard facts, I am positive there is validity to this defensive strategy.

More importantly, this is a paradigm shift in baseball. It is even more for remarkable for baseball where change is not something that comes easy for fans, teams or the MLB powers that be.

Previously, only the likes of Barry Bonds or David Ortiz would be respected (or feared) enough to totally change a team’s defensive alignment. Now this is not the case. Instead, the infield shift is being used as a tool to get any and all out. Whether you are a Hall-of-Famer or bat .247 (no disrespect meant Mr. Drew).

Even NESN play-by-play commentator Don Orsillo noted that regarding the teams using the shift, “it used to be one guy, now it’s like five guys in every order.” It seems as though it may only increase.

The question is, is this change progress?

In this case, I think it is. If it gets batters out…why not? Sure pitchers have to pitch differently (slower or inside to induce players to pull the ball to the shift) and certain infielders have to get adjusted to their new spot on the field, but if it works…why not?

This could be a huge boost for the defensive aspect of the game. The result in the long run could also be that maybe hitters will adjust (i.e. go the opposite way) after seeing shifts for an extended period of time. Only time will tell.

More importantly, “the shift” has proved that baseball managers who are notoriously “old school” have made the leap to develop new ways to get batters out. Kudos to them for a little outside-the-box thinking and not letting baseball’s unwritten rules get in the way of getting hitters out.

Rhode Island College Men’s Basketball Coach, Bob Walsh, held a Leadership Academy this summer where he challenged coaches to “challenge conventional basketball strategy and theory.” It was a weekend full of ideas, sharing and radical thoughts.

I don’t think any MLB managers were at Coach Walsh’s Dynamic Leadership Academy, but I think they are starting to get the message.

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo

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