Players: Game will look nearly same in 2112
On Fenway's 100th anniversary, some offer interesting ideas
By 2112, baseball will have jetpacks and robotic umpires. Or maybe not.
The 100th anniversary of Fenway Park has stirred the imaginations of players around the league regarding what may and what may not change about the national pastime in the next 10 decades.
Many of the respondents have come to the logical conclusion that baseball will survive to be played in much the same fashion as it has been for the last 100 years. But some players had some fanciful ideas regarding the future of the designated hitter and the prevalence of instant replay.
"They will always play nine innings, I guess. Three outs. The bases will probably be the same distances," said Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson. "I'm sure the helmets will probably be different 100 years from now. I don't really see the rules or anything like that changing. Equipment changes every year. I hope nothing changes."
We've seen Babe Ruth's home run records -- both for the season and for career -- fall in the last 50 years, but at least one prominent player thinks that the game's most cherished feats will never be matched. Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, playing in his last season before retirement, said that Joe DiMaggio's hit streak and Cal Ripken's consecutive games streak are safe for posterity.
"Joe D's record and Cal's record will still be there. Wrigley Field will be standing, but it will have an oak tree growing in the middle of center field," said Jones. "I think you'll see both leagues convert one way or another to DH or no DH. I think it's going to be DH, because it creates more jobs. You'll go through a period where a bunch of American League pitchers get hurt hitting and bunting and running the bases in Interleague Play. Then they'll just finally say, 'Let's make it universal.'"
Dale Sveum, the manager of the Cubs and a former player, said that the bases, the mound and the ball will all likely be the same. The biggest change Sveum envisions? "Teams will have a bigger roster."
The Astros' Chris Johnson saw the same lack of change, saying that the Yankees and Red Sox will still have the league's biggest payrolls in 2112. For change, said Johnson, we'll have to settle for expanded DH and more instant replay.
The Indians' Chris Gimenez saw the next few decades playing out the same way as Johnson, saying that the game will be played largely the same way. Gimenez also said that the league will still have human umpires, but with altered roles.
"By then, they'll be reviewing every call. Fair or foul, home runs, all that stuff," said Jimenez. "Just the equipment is going to change. A different type of wood. It's all going to be the same kind or something like that. Some sort of technological change. Something to do with a different catcher's mask or maybe even something like more of a full body type."
Giants pitcher Ryan Vogelsong agreed with Gimenez, saying that the game would remain the same, but the equipment would become better and more lightweight over time. And when Cubs infielder Jeff Baker put on his Nostradamus hat, he foresaw tragedy in the future, an isolated incident that could change the way the game is played.
"I think everyone wants to put their stamp on the game and make it progressive," he said. "I'll say the bats. I think something radical will be changed with the bats. I can see an unfortunate accident happening because of the way the bats are made -- even though they're different now -- but something one in a million will happen and there will be a change."
After seeing the stadium boom of the last two decades, most players expected stadiums to remain unchanged. White Sox rookie Addison Reed, a veteran of 13 games in the Majors, expects the next 100 years to be interesting.
"I think the game is changing pretty much every day. I think everything is going to be different," said Reed of the Major Leagues of the future. "I'd say the only going to be the same is that there will be people in the stands. That's the only thing. ... People are getting bigger and stronger, so I would say the fences are going to be a lot farther back."
One of the most thoughtful responses came from Milwaukee reliever Tim Dillard, who thought about the future and couldn't see an alternate reality without human umpires. For Dillard, the umpires are too integral a part of the game to imagine them replaced by machines any time in the near future.
"As far advanced as we are, I don't think we'll ever lose the human element. ... If you have two teams, you have to have umpires, regardless of what technology may bring," he said before speaking about the future of pitching staffs. "It used to be that one guy pitched. Then three. Then it was unheard of to go to five. Maybe the rotation will get really big. Could be. If you would have said right when baseball came out that there would be a five-man 'rotation,' people wouldn't get it. One hundred years from now, people may look back and say, 'How did we ever get by with a five-man rotation?'"
When some players looked at the game, though, they saw a well-evolved sport with not much room for change. Some of them allowed that strategies will likely change due to the continued maturation and growth of the league's competitors.
"Four balls is a walk and three strikes is a strikeout. And if you hit it over the fence, it will be a home run," said White Sox reliever Matt Thornton. "Guys are going to get bigger, faster and stronger. It's happened already from 100 years to now. ... There will be better athletes. Players are going to change, but four balls will still be a walk and three strikes will be a strikeout."
Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher, a second-generation big league player, preferred to think that the game will mostly be the same one that his dad, Steve, played in the 70's and 80's. Ballparks and faces may change, he said, but the important stuff will always remain.
"It's the greatest game ever. It's not going anywhere," said Swisher of the future. "Little things in the game have changed in the time I've been here and it's definitely changed since when my dad played back in the '70's. If it wasn't for those guys in the '50's, '60's, '70's and '80's, we wouldn't be getting the things we're getting now. That's our job, to set this game up for those guys to play in 2030, 2040 [and] 2050. You never know, there might be a floating ballpark before we know it."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.