New Baseball Rules and the Long Island Pitchers Who Broke Them

New baseball rules cartoon by Dan Rattiner
Cartoon by Dan Rattiner

Baseball is back. And it’s got some new rules. One is that the bases themselves are bigger. Another is that the shift, where all four infielders are moved over to be on one side or the other side of second base, has been made illegal. Still another is that a pitcher must take no more than 15 seconds between pitches if nobody is on base, 20 seconds if they are. These new rules will both speed up the game and make it more exciting. They favor the batters, not the pitchers.

So, on opening day, who would be the first pitcher to fail to make his next pitch within 15 seconds? The honor, or dishonor, fell to Marcus Stroman, who in the fourth inning waited too long to make his next pitch. Play stopped. The umpire called out the penalty.

“Ball two,” he said.

Then Stroman, with 15 more seconds, had to make the next pitch. Which he did.

Stroman is one of two pitchers born and raised on the East End who is an active major leaguer. From Patchogue, he was a young phenomenon at the high school in that town. The other pitcher from these parts, also active as a pitcher, is Steven Matz, who was born and raised in Stony Brook.

As it happened, back in those high school days, the two boys, seniors in high school, pitched against one another in the schedule and baseball scouts from all the teams were out here to watch. Both struck out practically everybody on the other team. It was only in the 10th inning that Patchogue scored, which won the game for Stroman.

During their twenties, both went off to play for the Mets in those dark years when the Mets were not doing well. Matz went into the Mets’ organization straight out of high school. He had, and still has, a wicked curve. Stroman went off to college at Duke, and after graduation also played for the Mets.

Anyway, this year, no longer playing for the Mets, Stroman was chosen to be the starting pitcher for the Chicago Cubs on Opening Day. Quite an honor. And the baseball he threw in the fourth inning after the 15 seconds were up was set aside and will be displayed at Cooperstown, the home of Major League Baseball. A more dubious honor. But he also pitched six scoreless innings on Opening Day and the Cubs won.

“It’s tough, the pitch clock. It’s a big adjustment,” he told ESPN after the game. “It just adds a whole other layer of thinking.”

Matz also no longer plays for the Mets. And he was not chosen to pitch on Opening Day for the team he now plays for, the St. Louis Cardinals. But he has pitched since. As starting pitcher on Tuesday, April 4, he let up two home runs in his first two innings. After that, he was okay. (But the Cardinals still lost.)

A little more about him. His big rainbow curve served him well in the six years he was a Met. But he also had problems keeping focused while pitching. If someone got on base or he was in a tight spot, you could see him lose his concentration as he fought his way out. His career earned-run average — the lower the better — is about 4.30. Not great. Also, for several years, he’s held the record for allowing more home runs in the first two innings of the games he’s started than any other pitcher in baseball. (And yup, it just happened again.) In that he’s been a disappointment.

As for Stroman, he’s just 5 feet 7 and believed to be the shortest pitcher active in the majors. He’s also a brave, thoughtful pitcher, good with control, better in getting out of tough spots and over the years, a bit better than Matz, with a career era of about 3.60. Watching him pitch and outfox bigger, taller batters is a real treat.

What these two men, both now 31, are paid, is public record. Their teams think a lot of them. Matz is on a four-year contract bringing him $11 million a year. Stroman makes about $24 million a year with a three-year contract.

Local boys making good.

There is another ballplayer who has connections to the East End. He’s Mike Yastrzemski, the center fielder for the San Francisco Giants and is just a few notches below the all-time greats. And he bears the same last name as his grandfather, who did grow up out here and is in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Carl Yastrzemski, the son of a Bridgehampton potato farmer, had a legendary, sensational 23-year career in baseball with the Boston Red Sox, and in 1967 won the Triple Crown — the highest batting average, the most home runs and the most runs batted in in the league, all at the same time, all in the same year. It’s a rare thing, usually not achieved more than once in a half-century.

Highly honored in New England, Yastrzemski since his retirement has lived in Maine and rarely makes the trek down to Bridgehampton — even for the unveiling of a statue in Bridgehampton behind the school in the sandlot baseball diamond there last year. He did send a thank-you note, however.

His grandson, Mike Yastrzemski, is now 33 and last year hit 17 home runs. He grew up in Andover, Massachusetts, was taught baseball by his granddad, went to college at Vanderbilt and then headed west.

Baseball’s back. And many people think that this will be the year for — not the Mets — but for the New York Yankees and Aaron Judge.

As for the new rules, half a dozen games into the season, I’m not so sure I like them. True, the games are much shorter — sometimes by as much as an hour. But the staredowns by the pitcher, the temporary steps out of the batter box by the batter to rattle the pitcher further, the arguments between the coaches and the umpires and the controversies when all the players rush out to confront one another on the field — all are missing. And I miss them.

But that’s not baseball. Yes, it is.