The call-up rule for September seems unfair, inconsistent, and frankly makes no sense. None. But then a lot of things about baseball makes no sense anymore.
It is Silly September for Major League Baseball, a month when the game completely changes the rules, changes the way the game is played.
And they do it for no apparent reason and nobody seems to know who first proposed it and why they do it.
For five months, major league teams operate with a 25-man roster — usually 11 pitchers (five starters, six relief pitchers) and 14 position players (nine regulars and five bench players).
Then, for no plausible reason, when the calendar hits September, the last month of the regular season, every major league team can expand its roster to as many as 40 players.
Why, why, why?
For many teams, the Cincinnati Reds notwithstanding, September is the make-or-break month, the days that determine whether you win a division or snatch a wild card spot and become post-season spectators.
Suddenly, though, the game changes. Managers have more weapons at their disposal. They have more pitchers in the bullpen so they can yank their starting pitchers quickly with no fear of running out of pitchers. They can use more pinch-hitter and pinch-runners and defensive double switches almost indiscriminately, with no fear of running out of players.
Then what happens? The regular season ends. The playoffs begin. And suddenly managers are back to 25-man rosters. Those extra players vaporize. Gone. The game reverts back to the way it was played in April, May, June, July and August — the way it was designed to be played.
Nearly to a man managers don’t like it. Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon doesn’t like it, even though the Cubs are so loaded in their minor league system that they can load up their roster with legitimate major league players, more good players than other teams have. The Cubs are pretty invincible with a 25-man roster and other-worldly with an expanded roster.
Even a manager like Cincinnati’s Bryan Price doesn’t like it, even though he can use all the help he can get after his injury-interrupted season and a bullpen staffed with mostly impostors.
So whom does it benefit? Well, those minor league players who get called up in September make $85,000 and that’s more than most of them made the previous five months combined. They don’t like it. They love it. They get to wear a major league uniform, travel first class and all they have to do is sit in the dugout and wait for an at bat now and then. And they get 85 grand.
Price can see what it means for a manager, although he knows it isn’t good for the game and he knows it changes the game.
Asked if he likes the rule, he smiled and said, “As a manager, there is a yes and there is a no.”
And what might those be?
“You never have to worry about extra innings and running out of players like you do before September,” he said. “And you don’t have to worry about wasting a player as a pinch-runner and you don’t have to worry about using your second catcher as a pinch-hitter because you have a third catcher.
“If you are in a situation (translation: out of playoff contention) where you have a chance to see young guys play, maybe for the first time, well, that’s fun.”
He paused and took Maddon’s approach and said, “But it is not fun managing against it. Before one game this week the New York Mets added six players and we added three. From a reconnaissance standpoint, trying to get information on their players, knowing how they might be used off the bench or how to attack him at the plate, to know what a pitcher can do, his timing to home plate, or how he fields his position — there are a lot of unknowns.
“That’s a pretty unusual environment in sports and not so much for us, but for the Mets and the Cardinals and the Marlins and the Dodgers and the Giants — all those teams fighting to get into the playoffs and they have to contend with some unfamiliarities they didn’t have to contend with the first five months.
“Of course, they have the same benefits but there is no doubt it changes the game for one month, without question. The game changes completely with an endless ability to make changes throughout the course of a game. Every team, before September, has to worry about if they are going to have an eight-man bullpen and four-man bench, or a seven-man bullpen and a five-man bench. That goes back-and-forth, as we have done, all year. Then in September it is like, ‘Man, I have no concerns now.’ You can pull a starter in the first or second without fear of blowing out your bullpen for the rest of a series. Those are hard decisions to make before September. September gives you an umbrella of protection you don’t have the rest of the year.”
Price smiled once again and said, “Every team can take advantage of it, but I just don’t like the game in September as much as I like it from April to August.”
What baseball purist does? None. It makes zero sense, but then a lot of things baseball does these days makes no sense.