58 players, 24 pitchers, one game? Baseball needs to adjust

Remember how the controversial tie in the 2002 All-Star Game persuaded baseball to adopt an entirely new format for the game, one in which the outcome determines home-field advantage for the World Series?

The 16-inning fiasco between the Rockies and Dodgers on Tuesday night was not seen by nearly as many people, ending as it did after 3 a.m. ET. But the number of players used was so outrageous, perhaps the game will prove a tipping point in the conversation about roster limits in September.

The teams combined to use 58 players and 24 pitchers, breaking the previous mark of players used by four and pitchers by three. The Rockies used 13 pitchers, another record. And all of this was possible only because baseball changes its rules for the final month of the season, expanding rosters from 25 to a maximum of 40.

Outgoing Brewers general manager Doug Melvin for years has lobbied to change a system that fundamentally alters the way the game is played at the time of year when the results matter most. As another GM pointed out Wednesday, managers in September cannot match up with their bullpens to gain a platoon advantage – the opposing manager always can counter with an opposite-side hitter.

The managers are not at fault; they are operating within the rules. But the Yankees currently are carrying 39 players, the Mets 38, the Angels 37, the Blue Jays 36, etc. An increasing number of executives are asking, “Why the heck are we doing this?”

The union is one obstacle; it would not want callups – generally young players and fringy veterans – to lose service time in September. Then again, the union also is concerned with fairness and competitive integrity. Surely it would be open to some type of compromise.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia has advocated for a taxi squad in which teams could add different numbers of callups but activate only the same number – say, three – for each game. An executive suggested another other idea – stick to a 25-man roster, but allow teams to deactivate a certain number of players (most likely starting pitchers) each night. The effect would be the same.

Whatever the solution, inertia no longer is a sufficient excuse for maintaining the status quo. Tuesday night’s insanity sealed it. Baseball needs to adjust.