IT'S HIGH TIME
While several highly publicized trades were consummated at the baseball meetings in Dallas last week (page 64), a change that could have a profound effect on the game went largely unnoticed. The Rules Committee altered the definition of the strike zone, giving pitchers an advantage. While the lower level of the zone remains the top of the knees, the upper level was changed from "the batter's armpits" to "midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants."
There's a paradox at work here—the new definition, which would seem to shrink the strike zone, in fact expands it. Marty Springstead, who is the American League supervisor of umpires, explains: "By making the strike zone smaller, you actually make it larger. Batters couldn't hit that [armpits] pitch, and we couldn't call it. We wanted to get [the upper limit] to a place that was reasonable."
In other words, the old strike zone was so unworkable that umpires just let it creep lower and lower until almost any pitch above the waist was called a ball (SI, April 6, 1987). Now that they have a more realistic zone, they can enforce it. "Finally, something to help the pitcher," says Springstead. "The strike zone was so low, it was ridiculous."
A THORN FOR ROSE
At the same meetings, Cincinnati Reds manager Pete Rose, who didn't play last season even while hinting that he might, made it official that he has retired as a player.
Rose also revealed a possible drawback in the trade with Oakland that brought pitchers Jose Rijo and Tim Birtsas to the Reds for Dave Parker. Said Rose in response to the news, "Rijo, huh? Right out of the chute I got a potential clubhouse problem."
"Rijo is married to Juan Marichal's daughter."