Almost every September in Major League Baseball is exciting. Last year was one of the best final months in memory. This season is shaping up to be even better with more teams chasing the new second wild card berth. Looking over the schedule, it is easy to get excited about the final weeks and the division matchups it will bring. The Yankees play a bunch of games against the Orioles and Rays. The Rays and Orioles play the final series of the season against each other. The Angels have 13 remaining games against the Oakland A’s and Texas Rangers. The Dodgers have six games against the Giants to play, including the final series of the season. There are, indeed, exciting times ahead.
But, the month of September is quite flawed in Major League Baseball. For all of the excitement that pennant races bring, the September game is stained by the archaic rule of September roster expansion.
Once September 1st hits, teams can expand their active Major League rosters from 25 men to 40 men. When this practice was first conceived, it was about affording teams an opportunity to take a look at some of its Minor League talent. It was also about rewarding some Minor Leaguers for a good year with a month in the Major Leagues. But, the practice and application has the potential to ruin the September game.
While statements like that can be interpreted as being hyperbolic, the truth is that Major League Baseball plays with strict 25 man rosters from April through August. Then, teams can bring up extra bullpen arms, pinch runners, situational defensive players, and find roles for many players for the last 30 games. The 162 game schedule is what separates Baseball from the other sports. The season has a way of allowing the stronger teams to win because they can go through slumps, hot streaks, and everything in between and still have a relatively true outcome. September roster expansion changes all of that.
It also makes an important September game feel like a Spring Training game. Don’t believe it? Just look at Tuesday’s Giants-Diamondbacks box score.
Giants Manager Bruce Bochy used a total of 11 pitchers in the game. With pinch hitters and defensive replacements added in, Bochy used 25 players in an 8-6 loss to the Diamondbacks. Ordinarily, that type of bullpen management would hurt his team for at least a week. But, with the extra players available, Bochy employed his 11 pitchers and won’t have one single repercussion as his Giants try to maintain their 4.5 game lead over the Dodgers. While the Giants still lost, they don’t have a consequence for using so many relievers. That lack of a consequence strengthens them, even in defeat, in the pennant race as they can come back with a fresh bullpen for the next game.
A strict 25 man roster wouldn’t have allowed for that. If that 11 inning game had taken place in the last week of August, the Giants would likely still be dealing with some tired bullpen arms. The pennant race would’ve likely been impacted.
One would hope that Commissioner Bud Selig and perhaps his special committee would address this issue. Everything that Major League Baseball does is supposedly to keep the sanctity of the game alive. September expansion is the complete opposite of that concept. It is unfair that any of the AL East teams can call up extra relievers or have pinch runners and a third (even fourth) catcher available during games. The results are cheapened.
There are really only two viable solutions. The obvious one would be to scrap the practice. While it does help some organizations evaluate talent, the best interest of Baseball is to keep its entire season as valid as possible. There should not be a set of rules for five months and then a special set for its most important month. Teams should play with the same roster limits for the entire season.
The only other option is to allow teams to expand rosters, but only have 25 players eligible each night. Even that has its drawbacks as teams could essentially deactivate pitchers who don’t have a chance of pitching that particular night. But, if teams are intent on expanding and having options, at least the nightly game roster would be the same number for game one through game 162. There are still integrity issues, but at least the game itself will be played under the same rules.
With pennant races so close and the sport worried so much about the validity of the game, this has to be the last September of expanded rosters. They don’t make sense; they don’t add anything to the game or strategy of a Manager. Most importantly, they make the game different under a different set of rules.
The time is now to change this practice. It sounds like the perfect job for Selig’s special committee for on-field issues. If ever there was an on-field issue that was hurting the integrity of the game, it is this. The idea may have been conceived with good intentions, but the practice has far too much of a negative impact.