This just in: First base has been stolen, in an Atlantic League baseball game. It was stolen from the Lancaster Barnstormers, which will come as no surprise, the way this season has been going.
It happened Saturday, the Barnstormers at Southern Maryland. An 0-1 pitch to Blue Crabs’ outfielder Tony Thomas went all the way to the back stop.
Thomas, taking advantage of a just-introduced rule that is part of the AL’s three-year, experimental partnership with Major League Baseball, took off for first. He made it - “stole,’’ it - easily.
Trivia, if not history, was made.
But the partnership behind it is at least interesting and at most, potentially, could shape baseball’s future.
At the start of this season, the announced changes were: electronically called balls and strikes; no mound visits; pitchers must face at least three batters or end an inning; bases increased in size from 15 inches square to 18; no defensive shifts - two infielders must be positioned on each side of second base; the period between innings decreased from 2:05 to 1:45, and the distance from the pitching rubber to home plate extended 24 inches.
During last week’s all-star break four more changes were announced: Pitchers will be required to step off the rubber before pickoff throws. One foul bunt with two strikes will be permitted before a strikeout is called. The check swing rule will be tweaked to be more batter-friendly. And there’s the steal-first-base thing.
LNP sports intern David Eckert and I have spent part of our summer reporting on the changes, conducting dozens of interviews of players, managers, league and team officials. I stepped behind the plate (actually about eight feet behind the plate) with an electronic “ump,’’ in my ear for some first-person journalism.
Our work will appear in the paper and on Lancasteronline.com in the coming weeks, and this column was intended as an overview, perhaps a thesis statement.
Except that I’m not sure we have a thesis. Our first stab at one was wondering what the Atlantic League had to gain from this.
AL President Rick White said the partnership, “catapulted the league into a national conversation instead of a regional conversation.’’ Would it do so at the risk of the league’s niche as a place players go to reboot their careers and restart their climb to the big leagues?
That question stemmed mainly from moving the pitching rubber back, which obviously has potential to impact careers. Especially pitchers’ careers.
But that change, originally planned for the second half of this season, has been pushed back to next season at the earliest.
The Atlantic League, which includes the Lancaster Barnstormers, in conjunction with Major Le…
“There's no certainty that this is going to be a test rule,’’ White told Eckert at the all-star game in York last week. “This was something that, when it was discussed earlier in the year, created a good deal of concern all the way around."
The electronic balls-and-strikes thing has gotten most of the media attention. The Washington Post, Sports Illustrated, The Athletic and the Associated Press had representatives at its rollout in York. The National Review published a “thought piece,’’ on it.
But the truth is that change is going to happen, in the AL and ultimately in the majors. It’s inevitable. Just makes too much sense. The AL is simply a venue for working the bugs out.
The other changes range from whimsical to intriguing, but micro, not macro.
For now, we are left with this: MLB isn’t satisfied with what it is, on the field, right now. The AL is the lab where it will figure out what it’s going to be.