Robert Andino hits the game winning RBI single against the Red Sox in the 9th inning on September 28, 2011, eliminating Boston from the playoffs. Orioles manager Buck Showalter recalled, "If we didn't have 40-man roster call-ups like we did, Terry Francona would probably still be managing the Red Sox." File photo by Mark Goldman/UPI | License Photo
NEW YORK -- We are at the doorstep of the final month of baseball's regular season.
At the end of play on Monday there were 18 teams in the hunt for 10 playoff spots, none of them more than four games out. The race for the postseason promises to be scintillating with so many contending teams facing each other down the stretch.
And now, when the games are so crucial, the way baseball is played changes as big league rosters are permitted to expand from 25 to as many as 40 on Thursday. It is a rule that must be revised.
Some teams will be giving top prospects a taste of big league play. Others will use the expansion to employ a bunch of specialists to win, something they haven't been able to do all season. After teams have been restricted to playing a fair 25 vs. 25 for five months, we could see a team of 38 players against a team with 30. It's absurd.
Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter is a proven master when he has extra tools in his bag, and he hates the current system.
"The intent of the 40-man call-ups is lost completely. We beat the Red Sox -- eliminated the Red Sox in 2011 -- because of 40-man roster call-ups," Showalter said last weekend during a critical series against the Yankees in New York. "I look at it like this: If we didn't have 40-man roster call-ups like we did, Terry Francona would probably still be managing the Red Sox."
He is referring to that season's final series and the last stages of the Boston collapse that led to the reprehensible dismissal of the manager that helped the Red Sox end an 88-year World Series drought and then won another championship three years later. Where Showalter never had more than two lefties in his bullpen for the first five months of the season, in that series he had four because of expanded rosters, and he deployed them to beat Boston.
Teams have to study, analyze and know the opposing 25 players in a series until Sept. 1. There are strategies -- like saving a reliever or a hitter for a particular one-at-bat matchup -- but that is almost impossible when there are as many as 15 extra players to deploy.
"During the most important time in the year, you look for advantages in the matchups," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who also dislikes September baseball as it is played now. "You do that for five months and all of a sudden some of those advantages are gone because of the call-ups."
"You know what it was originally designed for? To actually look at players like Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada and actually see them," said Showalter, who did just that when he managed the 1995 Yankees. "Now everybody hoards these players. ... We've got three guys that run and play defense to come up here in the 40-man. They aren't long-term prospects. They're just a tool to use in September.
"I'm thinking about calling (Olympic sprint champion Usain) Bolt. Get him in (Triple-A) Norfolk for a week and, shoot, let's go."
Both Girardi and Showalter suggested remedies that would keep September baseball similar to the game teams played in the first five months, but with a little expansion. Girardi said a team should have to name a 27- or 28-man roster for every game that includes the entire rotation. Showalter suggested a team name a 25-man roster for each series.
A detail would have to be worked out with the Major League Baseball Players Association. They want as many players earning big league salaries and logging service time as possible. It would have to be negotiated, likely in collective bargaining, but it would make sense if teams could make up to 15 call-ups and have them available and earning the salaries and service time regardless of whether they are designated to play in a given series.
After all, this isn't baseball from decades ago, when some organizations kept their September rosters small to save of meal money for players.
Showalter said September baseball in this day and age has "really affected the way baseball was intended to be competed. ... There's a lot of smart people that can try to use the rules in their favor."
Baseball cares very much about "integrity of the game." But to have one team facing another with a different number of players? To have a player who would never make the 25-man roster available just to steal a base? Those doesn't improve the game's integrity. Changes are needed.