Musings about Baseball and Other Stuff
“Gee, I wish I could spend less time at the ballpark,” said no baseball fan ever.
Still, I suppose I understand the rationale behind Commissioner Manfred’s desire to speed up the game of Baseball. While relaxing in the stands and enjoying the deliberate pace of the greatest game in the world is one of life’s most sublime experiences, it is true that watching a long, drawn-out game on TV can sometimes be a rather tedious affair. (This is probably due more to the terrible way most networks choose to cover the game, but that’s a topic for another day.) And it’s from TV that the league makes most of its money, so it isn’t hard to connect the dots.
But if you want to pick up the pace of play, there are ways to do it, and ways not to. Less time between innings? Yes, please. I would be all in favor of a rule requiring hitters to stay inside the batter’s box for their entire at-bat, and pitchers to stay on the mound. Constant adjusting and re-adjusting of batting gloves and helmets is silly and unnecessary. Pitchers then feel the need to step off the mound and pace around for a while every time the batter re-sets after having stepped out. It’s not a cat-and-mouse game, it’s just annoying. Umpires need not grant time whenever a batter raises his hand, especially when the pitcher has already begun his delivery.
A pitch clock, though? No, never. Clocks have no place in the game of Baseball in any way, shape or form. It just isn’t part of the lexicon. You might say that a basketball game is at 2:41 in the third quarter, but in Baseball, you say it’s two out in the bottom of the sixth. Outs are Baseball’s currency, and are how you keep track of the game. It’s unique, and dare I say a bit elegant.
Which inevitably brings me to the new intentional walk rule. In case you’ve been living in a cave, the days of a catcher standing there with an outstretched arm while a pitcher lobs four outside balls are over. Now, the manager signals to the home plate umpire, and the batter simply goes to first. I saw it happen last night in the Cubs/ Cardinals game, and it was jarring. Just didn’t seem right.
I heard somebody say, “Pitchers no longer have to go through the ritual of throwing four outside pitches.” But here’s the thing – it wasn’t just a ritual. Those were four actual, live pitches. The ball was in play. Wild pitches, passed balls, and stolen bases were all on the table. Or a batter reaching out to poke at a pitch that didn’t get quite far enough outside. Or the famous fake-out Rollie Fingers pulled over on Johnny Bench during the 1970 World Series. Sure, things like that didn’t happen very often. But they did happen.
So I mourn the loss of a little bit of Baseball’s unpredictability, all to save an estimated average of 14 to 35 seconds per game. Gosh, whatever will I do with all that extra time?
As much as I dislike the intentional walk rule, it isn’t nearly as cockamamie as another change that is being tested this year in a couple rookie level A-ball leagues. When a game goes into extra innings, a runner will be placed on second base at the start of each inning, in an effort to get the game over faster. I can’t even begin to describe how much I despise this idea, and I shouldn’t even have to explain why. Let’s hope it dies a quick death in the minors and never sees the light of day at the MLB level.
I don’t want Baseball to stagnate. Some rule changes are good. I’m on board with replay review, for instance. But other things are better left alone. Will I get used to the intentional walk rule in time? Maybe. But then again, after 44 years, I still hate the Designated Hitter. (Also a topic for another day.)