February Thoughts

downloadA little delayed, but it’s simply because my computer has taken that long to thaw out from our harsh winter. So here are February thoughts….

  • Bryce Harper finally signed. And in what really wasn’t a surprise it was with the Philadelphia Phillies. Much was made towards the end of the fall last year that the Phillies would be BIG players in free agency this off-season. And after Manny Machado did surprisingly sign with the San Diego Padres, the writing was on the wall that the Phillies were going to do everything they could to lock up the other mega-star player of the off-season, Bryce Harper.
  • We are fully in the midst of spring training for the St. Louis Cardinals and yet once again the camp began with a pitcher being sidelined with an unexpected injury. This time it was Carlos Martinez. After seeing the All-Star come out of the bullpen at the end of last year because of shoulder and oblique injuries he has been sidelined three weeks from camp for shoulder weakness. We don’t know what this means, as there is no visible tear in the MRI scans, but this is not a good sign. Martinez is just one year removed from being one of the top starters in the league, and despite the recent thoughts of moving him to the bullpen to “save” his arm, I would much rather have 200 innings of Carlos than 60 innings. But again this depends on his health.
  • Ah the St. Louis Blues. Rolling off 11 straight wins and getting fans back on the bandwagon. They seem to have found their stride as they are back in the playoff picture and heading toward the postseason. But leave it up to the Blues to say, not so fast fans!!! Vladimir Tarasenko is out at least 10 days with an “upper body” injury. Word is that it is not the same shoulder injury that kept him out earlier this year. Let’s hope that is true because Tarasenko has been playing his best hockey since wearing the note and if they want to keep their play up they will need #91.
  • Finally Antonio Brown has been dealt. The wide receiver forced his way out of Pittsburgh and is now an Oakland Raider. While everyone is praising the trade for the Raiders, I just don’t get it. Yes the trade itself was a good one, giving up just a 3rd and 5th round pick from an All-Pro receiver. But aren’t the Raiders in the middle of a complete tear down? Actually they aren’t even in the middle, they are in the beginning of it! They just started it last year. So why did the Raiders make the trade? Yes they improved their talent pool but they are still a question at quarterback, you know the position that will giving Brown the ball. And we know by now that Brown WANTS the ball. And if he doesn’t get it, he will make it known.
  • We are nearing March Madness 2019 and yet again, barring surprising conference tournament runs, our local teams will not be going dancing. Both Mizzou and SLU are young and showed some signs this year of promise. But I find it baffling that they can both find themselves so short-handed. Cuonzo Martin, in his 2nd year with the Tigers, and Travis Ford, in his 3rd year with SLU, have short handed teams and their player rotations are costing them wins because they don’t have the depth. Mizzou and SLU are both down to a seven man rotation and even with injuries that should not happen to big-time programs.
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January Thoughts

hmmmSo this year I thought I would change things up. Rather than doing a weekly blog (which was my resolution in 2018 and I achieved! So see it is possible!) I will be doing a monthly list of things that make me go hmmmm….with random blogs whenever a big news event comes up.

So what were my thoughts about January?

  • I don’t understand why Bryce Harper and Manny Machado remain unsigned. Let me rephrase that, I understand the why but not how. The why is because MLB teams have become unified in their analytical thinking. So now they have a “formula” that tells them how much to a player and since they all have this formula all teams have the same thoughts and guidelines. Now I say I don’t know how, because come on people. You can’t run everything based on analytics. The outcome of the game is still determined by the players and not by calculators. Sure it is wise to not just hand out free money to players. But these are two perennial All-Star players entering their prime at 26 years old!
  • Which leads me to my second thought. Every fan in St. Louis wanted the Cardinals to pursue Bryce Harper from day one of free agency. And understandably the Cardinals were not wanting to jump in on spending that amount of money. However now that we are just two weeks away from the start of spring training and the Padres are bringing Harper in for an interview…maybe it is time for the Cardinals to kick the tires. If you can get Harper for a significantly less amount of money than what was anticipated then why not? Oh what about Fowler’s contract. Well sorry one bad contract, or even if Fowler bounces back, is not enough to convince me that Harper would not have a bigger impact. Speaking of impact. He is the type of player that would be the face of the Cardinals and give them a true national spotlight they have not had since Albert Pujols (sorry Paul Goldschmidt).
  • To continue the Harper thoughts. Let’s look at what the Cardinals are apparently trying to do. Resign Goldschmidt. That would be great but take a closer look. Goldschmidt is 32-years old and all reports are that he wants a 3-4 year deal. So that takes him to his age 36 season. So then why are the Cardinals are reluctant to give Harper a 10-year deal? A deal that would take him to his age 36 season. You would be getting Harper’s prime years and then paying for the expected slide after 30 years old. Instead they have no concern in paying for Goldschmidt’s down years from 32-36? Makes no sense to me.
  • The NFL continues to be the NFL. What has been the biggest story line for the NFL this playoffs. Oh yeah, horrible calls by the officials. It never fails. The NFL’s biggest story lines are always something other than the actual teams, players, results of the game. It is either bad calls, teams moving, players getting in trouble, or concussions that garner the headlines. This is the problem of the NFL and something that is not beneficial to the league. Until they can figure out how to turn the spotlight on what it should be; remarkable athletes doing great things, then the NFL is sitting in a precarious position.
  • Speaking of always taking one step forward and two steps back. The University of Missouri. Ughhhhh. Come on Mizzou! Whether it is getting touted prep athletes like Dorial Green-Beckham or Michael Porter Jr. only to see their Tiger careers come to unexpected endings. Now we have the penalties issued by the NCAA for a rogue tutor. And as of now they are facing postseason bans in football, baseball, and softball. These coming after a spectacular recruiting period for the football team.
  • And oh the NCAA. Such inconsistencies. Missouri cooperates with the NCAA and self-reports that a tutor wrote papers and did classwork for 12 athletes. These tutor was not instructed by anyone with the school to do so or by the players but did so anyways. Yet Missouri gets hammered while other schools like North Carolina walked away with nothing? It is these “case-by-case” scenarios that further paints the NCAA in a bad light; and like the NFL they just can’t get out of their own way.
  • While we talk about getting out of their own way. The professional sports leagues may be about to make the dumbest move ever. Word is that three of four leagues (MLB, NFL, and NHL) are heading towards lockouts. Why? Well in MLB it is the lack of money being spent through free agency and how teams how holding back on calling up younger players to preserve their contract time. NFL players want guaranteed money and the NHL, well the NHL is always on the verge of locking out. This would be a horrible move for any of the leagues to lock out. Yes there are matters that need to be fixed. But a lockout will only hurt the teams AND players. They have enormous amounts of money coming in through TV contracts right now and there is no shortage of money. So sit down, talk it out, and solve your issues before you do anything to harm your league.
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A True Son

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There is a phrase among many Missouri Tiger fans…A True Son. It stems from a Mizzou cheer and is a part of the school’s marketing campaign. It refers to a male student (females are True Daughters) whose family also attending the University of Missouri and the Tiger heritage is strong within their family. And from now on I think when you look up True Son in the dictionary it should have a picture of Drew Lock.

Lock is a third generation Tiger. His father and grandfather both attended and played football at Missouri. Growing up just outside of Kansas City, Lock was a prep star and despite being recruited by schools like Ohio State, Tennessee, and Louisville (and even Oklahoma in basketball) he couldn’t run away from his dream of wearing the Black and Gold of Mizzou. Lock will play his final game in that uniform this week when Mizzou faces Oklahoma State in the Liberty Bowl.

Lock’s tenure as the Tigers signal caller got off to an arduous start. He saw time behind center as a true freshman, playing in all 12 games but the scene around him was less than ideal. He supposed to be the backup behind incumbent three-year starter Maty Mauk. But that only lasted four games as Mauk was eventually suspsended for the season. Lock won his first start, a 24-10 victory over South Carolina but then more distractions arouse. The football team became involved in the campus protests, dividing not just fans but the team as well. The Tigers won just one game the remainder of the year and limped their way to a 5-7 record.

As a sophomore it was Lock’s team but the season did not feature much to savor outside of a one-point loss to #16 Georgia. The Tigers, in their first season under new head coach Barry Odom, finished 4-8 overall and included a loss during homecoming to Middle Tennessee State and a blowout at the hands of Tennessee.  But that game against Georgia was the first glimpse of what Drew Lock could be. He threw for 376 yards and three touchdowns against one of the nation’s best teams. But there would be an enigma that would follow him around. That he couldn’t perform against the big teams.

That enigma continued into his junior season. Despite setting an SEC record for touchdown passes in a season, totaling 44 touchdowns and nearly 4,000 yards through the air, critics quickly pointed out to his performances against the top quality opponents. Lock earned All-SEC honors that year and led the Tigers to a 7-6 mark.

In 2018 Lock was primed for his senior season. He was part of an early Heisman campaign and buzz about his NFL career was growing. He was also working with first time offensive coordinator Derek Dooley. The phrase heard all summer rang true. While his numbers may be less than the previous year, in 2017, he would be a better quarterback. And do you know what? The statement was correct. Lock threw for 3,100 yards and 25 touchdowns but threw just eight interceptions while increasing his completion percentage to 63-percent. The Tigers are also 8-4 overall, ranked #24 in the country, and heading to their second straight bowl game.

So what can we take away from Lock’s career? First of all I think his collegiate career is the typical, anticipated college career. One of a talented young player, growing over his four years into the player he was recruited to be. In today’s “we want it now” society, fans want results immediately. They want dominance from day one. Well guess what? That doesn’t happen very often. Even some of the most highly anticipated high school players do not make the immediate impact on college campuses that many thought they would. Remember Gunner Kiel? Christian Hackenberg? What about Bryce Brown or Willie Williams? These players were all highly touted prep stars and never lived up to the billing.

Meanwhile all that Lock did was spend his summers working out to keep getting better. And despite his obvious arm talent one of the qualities you often hear when people talk about Lock is his leadership. He has fun on the field and shows it. His teammates love playing with him. And one thing that I am truly appreciative of…he is playing in his bowl game. Here is a player that is considered a possible first-round NFL draft pick. His team is not playing for a national championship, yet he will be out there on the field this week with his teammates and trying to win a bowl game for the Tigers and their fans.

It may have taken four years for Lock to grow into the quarterback that was envisioned when he signed with the Black and Gold. But his journey along the way is one that should be told often to recruits. He never gave up. He didn’t transfer. He worked hard to improve and reach his potential. Put any other recruit into the situations that Lock was thrust into early in his career and they would have abandoned ship. But for Lock to stay in CoMo and reach the point he has now…that makes him an all-time great. That makes him a True Son.

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2018, A Year In Review

Another year has come to a close. 365 years down and along with that a year full of memories. I know years go quicker and our minds become shorter as we age so let me help you out by taking you back through 2018 and reminiscing about the past year’s top sports moments.

  • There is not better way to start talking about 2018 than with a near storybook like synergy of Alabama football. The Crimson Tide started 2018 off with a championship in January but did so by going from starter Jalen Hurts to freshman Tua Tagovailoa to rally in the championship game for the title. Move 11 months down the road and we find Hurts coming off the bench in the SEC championship game to replace Tua and rally the Tide to a conference championship and secure their spot into the college football playoffs. A truly storybook like circle of life.
  • Just a few weeks later, still in the sport of football, we got the Philly Special. The Philadelphia Eagles, 5.5 point underdogs against the New England Patriots, the largest underdog since the 2009 Super Bowl, upset the Patriots 41-33; using a play called Philly Special in which backup quarterback Nick Foles caught a touchdown pass.
  • March Madness was truly maddening as Villanova defeated Michigan 79-62 to win the Men’s Basketball Championship. Donte DiVincenzo scored 31 points in the championship game, earning Most Outstanding Player honors. But more maddening for the 2018 bracket was our first ever #16 over #1 seed win with UM-Baltimore County knocking off the sleeping giant, and I mean sleeping because watching them play is so boring it will put you to sleep, Virginia. We also saw a run from Loyola-Chicago, the #11 seed, making it into the Sweet Sixteen before falling to #9 seed Kansas State; marking the first ever Sweet 16 meeting of seeds that low.
  • 2018 was the year of big moves from star players, beginning with Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton forced a trade away from the dumpster fire that is the Miami Marlins and teams lined up to try to trade for him. However, with a no-trade clause in his contract he had the power. And with his contract power he decided to take his bat power to New York, joining the Yankees. All Stanton did in the pinstripes was hit 38 home runs and lead the Bronx Bombers to setting a new MLB record for home runs by a team.
  • The summer featured the NBA’s biggest star also changing teams when LeBron James decided to leave his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers and head to the West Coast for the L.A. sunshine. After bringing a title to his hometown two years ago James decided to take the next step in his career and join one of the NBA’s most storied franchises, the Lakers. Rather than playing on a team with a bunch of older players on the wrong side of their career James will be finishing up his career on a team with a group of younger talented players. It is and will be a continued challenge for James to play with a different set of players but the Lakers are undeniably more talented than the Cavaliers. Plus L.A. is a media mecca.
  • 2018 is also closing out with talk about another superstar changing teams, although his decision will likely come in 2019. Bryce Harper has been a baseball phenom for over a decade, and yet he is only 26 years old. He is the most talented, young free agent in the history of the game and Scott Boras, Harper’s agent, wants him to be paid like that. The free agent market has been slow for the MLB once again and there is no timetable set for his signing. But the fact that Harper has hit the market will likely set the markets future for years to come. Will he go back to the Nationals? Will a team be outwitted by Boras and open their bank accounts? Will a team like the Cardinals sneak in at the last-minute? It should be an interesting winter with spring training not too far away.
  • The Madden Era of the NFL has been growing over the last few years but it fully arrived this year in the form of Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes is tearing up the league in his first as an NFL starter, leading the NFL with 45 touchdown passes while completing 67-percent of his passes and throwing for 4500 yards. He is not the only one destroying defenses. Jared Goff and the Rams were rolling offensively until their recent three game skid. Drew Brees is completing 75-percent of his passes this year. Christian McCaffery is redefining the running back position. Offense in the NFL is exploding and the difficulty setting isn’t changing anytime soon.
  • One of my favorite moments of the past year was seeing Alexander Ovechkin lift the Stanley Cup. After a career in which he took the brunt of disappointment for the Captials playoff performances, Ovechkin finally led his team to the Stanley Cup. And there was no moment as fulfilling as seeing him lift the cup. His excitement, relief, exuberance, dreams, all coming true in that moment. The weight of the world fell off Ovechkin’s shoulders as he lifted the cup above his head. And for those that may have missed it, go on YouTube and just search Ovechkin celebrates Stanley Cup. It will make you laugh and you will see his love of the game.
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Christmas Wish List, 2018 Edition

mercury-sports-ball-ornaments-cIt is time for my annual Christmas Wish List for the St. Louis sports fan. Here is what I will be hoping the big man brings to Gateway City this Christmas.

  • At the top of any St. Louis sport fans list this year is a heart for the St. Louis Blues. This has been the most frustrating year that I can remember watching the Blues, and that includes the abysmal years in the mid-2000’s when Brad Boyes and Lee Stempniak were the stars. This year’s team has allowed five or more goals NINE times this season and have not won more than two games in a row. The only consistency they have shown is that they will always follow-up a great game with extreme disappointment. They have they talent, they have tried different coaches, what they don’t have is heart.
  • It seems like every year I am wishing for health for our local sports teams. And while I am sure many fans in different cities wish for the same thing it sure does seem like St. Louis deals with injuries to their key players more than any other city. From near annual Tommy John surgery announcement in Cardinals spring training, to the frequent Jayden Schwartz/Robby Fabri update, to whatever star prospect Mizzou ends up signing; St. Louis has an abundance of lost dreams to injuries each year. So please health gods; let Alex Reyes finally pitch a full year, keep pucks away from Schwartz’ feet, and let Kelly Bryant complete his collegiate career on a high.
  • Speaking of Kelly Bryant, I wish for a smooth transition at the Tigers quarterback position. Moving from four-year starter Drew Lock to graduate quarterback transfer Kelly Bryant should keep the Mizzou program on the right track. They have plenty of starters returning and hopefully the addition of Bryant will keep the program moving forward. Missouri has been on the verge of taking that next step several times but always fallen back. Whether it has been a suspension (Dorial Green-Beckham), injury (Emmanuel Hall), political issues, or cocaine parties (Matty Mauk) there is always something off the field that makes the program take two steps backwards. Let’s hope the only news we hear out of CoMo this offseason and next fall is how hard the team is working.
  • While we are talking Mizzou football, my wish is that Drew Lock be drafted by an NFL team in a good situation. Lock has the arm, size, and mobility that NFL teams are looking for. He showed strides this year of being the quarterback he was billed to be as a high school star. Lock is being talked about as the third quarterback to be taken in the first-round of the upcoming 2019 NFL draft. And that would be a good position for him because that means he would likely be from the middle to lower part of the first-round; where the better teams are. We have seen how important getting the right coach is to NFL quarterbacks, particularly recently. Look at the turn around of Jared Goff and Baker Mayfield after coaching changes. If Drew Lock can find the right situation he could have a very good NFL career.
  • I am hoping the next box contains a vial of potential. And I will gladly hand that vial over to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals have missed out on the playoffs for three straight years, something unthinkable for the needy fans of the birds on the bat. The last few years the Cardinals have banked on their players playing to their potential or above and more often than not, the only exception I can think of for a player going above their expected performance is Miles Mikolas. Otherwise the players the Cardinals have counted on have performed below expected performance; from Matt Carpenter, Marzell Ozuna, Dexter Fowler, Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, etc. The Cardinals players have not been able to rise above expectations. And that is what is needed for teams to make runs into the postseason, particularly for teams that are not spending above the luxury tax. I hope the Cardinals reach their potential this year. A full healthy year from Paul Goldschmidt, Kolten Wong, and their talented arms. A season more like 2017 for Dexter Fowler and Ozuna. And the continued growth of players like Harrison Bader, Tyler O’Neill, and Paul DeJong.
  • My final wish list item is a scarf, you know the one I am talking about. A soccer scarf. That’s right let’s bring MLS to the Lou. Whether or not you are a soccer fan, this would be a good thing for the city. It would be a plus, a positive addition to the city rather than the recent negative light the city has seen. So hopefully next month we will hear those words from the MLS that St. Louis will be gaining another major professional sports team.
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Looking For A Dance Partner

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New Year’s is coming up, the time of year when we all look back on the current calendar and look ahead to the future. Most people spend it with someone, sharing past memories and creating new ones. But for the second year in a row there is a prominent figure that is left without the dance partner they hoped for…the University of Central Florida has once again been left out of the College Football Playoffs.

To give you a quick recap on UCF (University of Central Florida), they currently hold a 25 game winning streak, the longest in the nation, and are ranked #8 in the country. However despite the historic streak and national recognition for a second straight fall, the Knights were not chosen as one of the four teams to battle it out on the field for the right to be called National Champion.

This topic is a room divider. Fans of the Power 5 schools (the big programs in football) argue that UCF doesn’t deserve a chance because they don’t play the same hard in-conference schedule that the Power 5 teams do. Fans of UCF will gladly point out that they have beaten the big boys when given the chance, like last year when they demolished Auburn in the Peach Bowl. The true answer, as things typically happen in life, lies somewhere in the middle.

It is true that UCF does not face the same difficult teams on a weekly basis within their conference as the Power 5 teams. Temple, Cincinnati, Memphis, and Houston do not strike the same fear into foes as does Georgia, Michigan, Texas, Pittsburgh, or Washington State. But let’s not forget that the Power 5 schools are NOT facing those type of teams on a weekly basis either. Teams like Louisville, Kansas, Illinois, Arkansas, and Oregon State would likely not be any better within the American Athletic Conference as they are in their current Power 5 conference.

In fact outside of the upper echelon teams in the SEC and Big 10, you are looking at only a handful of roller coaster teams (teams that may look great one week and disappoint the next) with the rest being below average teams. A closer look at Alabama’s schedules shows they played Louisville, Arkansas State, Louisiana (NOT LSU), Arkansas, Tennessee, and The Citadel. Those six teams, half of their schedule, went a combined 29-44 this year with 15 of those wins coming from lower level Arkansas State and The Citadel. So while Alabama is a machine and destroys their opponents, don’t tell me that they face a gauntlet schedule each week. The same can be said for any of the top teams in the Power 5 conferences; from Ohio State playing Oregon State, Rutgers, and Tulane to Clemson facing Furman, Georgia State, and Wake Forest.

I am not saying that UCF playing in a Power 5 conference would not be more difficult for them. But I am saying that the Power 5 conferences are not a weekly gauntlet as many may have you think.

UCF has won 25 games, which is impressive no matter what conference you are in. The current streak that the Knights are on is the 22nd longest streak in the history of NCAA football….All-Time. Now consider that this is a program that went 0-12 as recently as 2015, and that is truly a historic turn-around.

Defenders of the Power 5 schools will say well UCF can’t control their conference games but they can play their non-conference games against Power 5 teams. Yes, they could. And they have. Since 2010 UCF has played schools like Georgia, Boston College, Missouri, Ohio State, Penn State, South Carolina, Stanford, Michigan, Auburn, and Pittsburgh. The problem they are facing now is that since they have turned the program around the Power 5 schools will not play them anymore. Schools like Florida have supposedly offered to play a 2-for-1 series against them, meaning UCF would play two games at Florida and one at UCF. Oh how nice of Florida, the same the school that avoids playing in-state games against Miami, to throw UCF a bone. But outside of the home field advantage, a 2-for-1 overlooks the fact that a series like that would also mean millions of additional money going to Florida or whatever schools holds that additional home game. And we all know that today, money is a driving force in any discussion of college athletics.

UCF may not be able to beat any of the four teams in the playoffs. Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma are legit powers. However that should not preclude a team like UCF getting their shot. They have the longest active winning streak, have shown they CAN beat teams of that caliber (like last year defeating Auburn who was the only team to beat national champion Alabama last year), and are taking care of what is in front of them. Remember football is played on the field and the best talent doesn’t always win; the best team does. So what does UCF do next? Continue to try to schedule Power 5 schools and take advantage of the chances they do get; like their next game against LSU in the Fiesta Bowl on January 1st. UCF may not have the dance partner they wanted but they might as well get up and tear up the dance floor, and in the process tear down the wall separating the Power 5 conferences from the rest of college football.

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What the Shift?

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It is the ‘Hot Stove Season’ in baseball but hotter than the Goldschmidt trade or who signs where was news broke by Jayson Stark of The Athletic. Stark noted that there is growing support from those inside baseball to ban the shift. Yes the shift! The thing that makes a baseball defensive formation look like a Picasso painting.

So why is sentiment growing and how would this work? Let’s look first at the why. The shift has always been around in baseball, playing the odds and moving defenders to a better position to field the ball. That grew into fielders aligning themselves more to one side whether or not a batter is a pull-hitter and evolved into situations like last year that we have seen where teams use one fielder only on one side of the infield or having six defensive players crowd the infield depending on the hitter.

And thanks to sabermetrics teams’ usage of shifts continued to exponentially grow. So much so that there where nearly 28,000 more shifts in 2018 than in 2013. What effect does the shift have? Well it takes away the holes a batter can find with the ball. So many holes that there were fewer ground ball hits in any season since baseball expanded in 1998 and over 1,200 fewer than as recent as 2015. Shifts have a direct effect on the game, most significantly taking away offense. Teams can no longer spray the ball all over the place and instead have decided to beat the shift by hitting it over the shift; the creation of the launch angle teaching. Which in turn has led to a drastic increase in strikeouts. Again furthering the lack of action and scoring in baseball, which is something that baseball is struggling to get into the game.

Now the how. How would a ban on the shift work? There has been nothing set in stone in regards to the ban but baseball officials are talking. Possible thoughts are limiting when the shift could be applied, limiting or requiring a certain amount of infielders be aligned on the dirt or in the grass. The details of any shift ban must be worked out and all data will be included in the process.

But the fact remains that baseball is trying to grow its game and one was is to increase offense and action, and banning the shift may do that. Other sports have made adjustments to their game to increase offense. From the NHL banning the neutral zone trap, to the NBA adding the three-point line, and the NFL emphasizing defensive penalties; sport leagues know that action and offense attract fans. So baseball purists, shift your thinking because your game may be changing with a ban on the shift.

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