There’s no sweeter phrase than “Play ball!” at this time of the year. For the frozen folks of the Wolverine State and elsewhere in the Rust Belt, the start of spring training games in Arizona and Florida this week means warm weather is a mere two or three months away.

But the past off-season brought the unsettling news that the geniuses of Major League Baseball are willing to tinker with how extra-inning games are played. Joe Torre, MLB’s chief baseball officer, has okayed a plan to let the lowest minor leagues automatically put a man on second base at the start of the 10th inning and thereafter.

Backers of the idea say it’s to shorten games so the teams’ benches and pitching staffs don’t get depleted in a marathon outing.

“It’s not fun to watch when you go through your whole pitching staff and wind up bringing a utility infielder in to pitch,” explained Torre, a former All-Star player and Yankees manager.

Well, I got news for you, Joe. It’s a lot more common for non-pitchers to take the mound in the eighth inning of a 16-3 blowout than in extra innings. Only a few games a year turn into death marches of 15 innings and more, and most bullpens can handle them pretty easily.

The idea of putting a guy on second to open extra innings originated in international baseball competition a few years ago. To which I say: So what? The next thing you know, some Supreme Court justices are going to cite international law in their decisions. (Yeah, some do that now. But not the good justices.)

Anyway, it’s time to stop babying the overpaid ballplayers. When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai, not one of the Ten Commandments read, “Thou shalt not let a starter pitch more than seven innings.” And a decent middle reliever should be able to be effective for two or three innings. Limiting a strong, young pitcher to a single inning is counterproductive if he’s getting batters out.

It wasn’t uncommon for pitchers to throw extra-inning complete games in the deadball era, but great pitchers could gut it out in modern times, too.

In a classic match-up of two future Hall of Famers, Juan Marichal of the Giant’s and the Braves’ Warren Spahn pitched scoreless ball before Willie Mays belted a one-out homer in the bottom of  the 16th inning on July 2, 1963.

Spahn blamed his 1-0 loss on a screwball that “didn’t break worth a damn.” What nobody pointed to was his age. He was only 42 and still had more innings in him.

Politicos may still believe “All politics is local,” as Tip O’Neill famously decreed, but it hasn’t been operative for ages. Republicans turned the ex-House Speaker’s truism upside-down in 1994, when Newt Gingrich nationalized the congressional elections with the Contract with America and swept the GOP to control of the House for the first time in four decades.

The idea that backyard issues trump national concerns is even weaker today. Local affairs barely make a squeak amidst the thunder and bluster now rolling out of Washington. Politics isn’t local any more, it’s WhozOx — short for “It depends on whose ox is getting gored.”

If you’re unfamiliar with the old idiom, oxen are castrated bulls used as draft animals that, like their ballsy brethren, sometime go at each other with their horns. The owner of an ox giving a beatdown isn’t likely to stop it, but he’ll call for the fight to end immediately if the tide turns. Thus, “whose ox” is a term for hypocrisy when your stance on an incident depends on your self-interest, not your general principles.

We’re seeing an abundance of WhoZox these days as the liberals scream over the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court because the GOP-led Senate snubbed President Obama’s choice of Merrick Garland last year. That Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer and other Dems have said Republican presidents had no right to name anyone to the high court in an election year is a perfect example of WhoZox.

Similarly, the Left is in full-blown WhoZox outrage over President Trump’s executive orders after showering nothing but praise on Obama’s overreaching — and often unconstitutional — diktats in recent years.

Conservatives historically have faced a huge public relations problem. Thanks to the New York Times, Washington Post, cable and network news, NPR and their collaborators in the mainstream media, the public wasn’t aware of WhoZox. Instead of reporting on political fights as battles of equals, the MSM saw a blood-crazed ox (conservatives) terrorizing an innocent sacred cow (progressives). For the longest time, low-information voters accepted this unbalanced version.

Now, fortunately, the truth is finally getting out. Talk radio, the internet, Fox News and that rarest of birds, honest MSM reporters, laid the foundation, but the change-maker is Donald J. Trump. His fearless approach to the media has blown up the old way.

So who’s ox is being gored? The media is taking on Trump, but its horns are blunted.  He’s getting gored in the process, but he’s giving out a lot more than he’s getting. Let us enjoy their pain while it lasts.

In his final days, Barack Obama left the country plenty of not-so-lovely parting gifts — more unreasonable federal regulations, irrational executive orders and land grabs snatching millions of acres from Western states.

But it’s even worse than that. Obama’s minions are working under the radar to interfere with even small communities.

Not beyond Obama’s dead-man grasp is Eastpointe, a working-class suburb on Detroit’s border. A city since 1929, Eastpointe was known as East Detroit until 1992, when voters changed the name to disassociate themselves from a place then best known as the Murder City. (Secondarily, they futilely hoped to link their city to their ritzy neighbors, the Grosse Pointes.)

Like many older suburbs, Eastpointe was nearly all-white until waves of middle-class blacks fled to escape the hellish inner city in the past 20 years. Blacks now make up almost a third of its 32,000 residents.

No blacks serve on the city council, however, a fact that caught the eye of Obama’s Department of Justice.

Even though no black resident filed a formal complaint or even spoke out publicly about Eastpointe having an all-white city council, the DOJ saw racism run amuck. On Jan. 10, the agency filed a lawsuit seeking to force the city to switch from electing council members at large to setting up a district or ward system.

“Eastpointe has racially polarized voting patterns, with white voters consistently opposing and defeating the preferred candidates of Eastpointe’s sizable black community,” a Justice Department press release said.

An internet search turned up plenty of links to stories about the DOJ monitoring local elections for irregularities but none about federal efforts to overturn a city’s voting system.

So Eastpointe’s activists cheered the feds’ plan to throw out an 88-year-old electoral system? Not exactly.

Local black leaders, such as the Revs. James Friedman and Kevin Lancaster, don’t want the feds to get mess around with their city, according to a report in the Detroit News.

Friedman, senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Eastpointe, said he believes minorities can win office without Washington’s help. “Why Eastpointe?” he told the News. “What is it that Eastpointe has done?”

Lancaster, pastor of Love Life Family Christian Center, said he’s pleased the DOJ is raising the issue, but he believes community groups can elect a more diverse council. He doesn’t think splitting the city into four wards, of which one would be predominately black, is the best idea.

The only person quoted in the News article who favored the move was the black owner of an insurance agency who placed third in a three-way race for two council seats in 2015.

Whether the DOJ forces the city to adopt a district voting system in time for its election this November could be up to President-elect Donald Trump’s new attorney general.

“The decision reflects the Obama administration, which strongly supports voting rights cases. Let’s see what the Trump administration does,” Robert Sedler, a constitutional law professor at Wayne State University, told the News.

In any event, Eastpointe’s case is a reminder that draining the swap in Washington must include clearing out the bogs and miasma the Obama administration has scattered across the land.