We have a new baseball season. A cause for celebration.
We also have a new baseball commissioner. A cause for… concern.
Because the new commissioner of baseball, Rob Manfred, has a mandate from the owners who appointed him: Speed up the game, or else.
When I first read this, I was greatly alarmed:
This isn’t about tinkering with the playoffs to make a few extra dollars from the television networks. The 30 team owners have ordered the new commissioner to modernize baseball and make it appeal to an audience that is increasingly weary of the game’s slow pace. There will of course be cries of sacrilege from traditionalists about putting the national pastime on a clock. Many players are resisting, too. But they are unlikely to slow the transformation….
Arrrggghhh! Sacrilege is too soft a word, I thought! I’ve seen the stories about how younger generations were turning away from baseball (I’ve been reading them for decades, it seems.) But the very idea that the game itself would be changed to meet the frenetic expectations of kids raised on video games and the kinds of cartoons that give me a headache from the next room was an outrage! Alla you kids, get outta my ballpark!
… until I continued reading, and found nothing of the kind:
What drove these wealthy titans over the edge were moments like these: David Ortiz at the plate, endlessly rubbing his hands and adjusting his batting gloves; or David Price, the game’s most deliberate hurler, taking his usual 27 seconds between each pitch.
National television ratings have plummeted as the average game last season stretched beyond three hours, or more than 30 minutes longer than the average in the 1970s. This is despite the fact that run-scoring, which usually produces longer games, is at a 33-year low….
Oh. OK. So basically, we’re saying that we’re not only respecting tradition, we’re trying to return baseball to those halcyon days that all good people remember with great warmth and respect. To take it away from those prima donnas capriciously holding up the game, and making about people who came to play ball! I can live with that.
So how will this be accomplished?
This season will bring clocks that count down a newly specified two minutes 25 seconds between half-innings (2:45 for nationally televised games). A hitter will have to keep a toe in the batter’s box throughout an at-bat, stepping out only after he swings or calls timeout. In recent years, countless batters took to stepping out after every pitch. Baseball operations executives will closely monitor pitching habits, with warnings and fines for the most egregious dawdlers. A too-long-ignored rule says pitchers must throw every 12 seconds. The game’s rulers say it remains a kind of guidepost and they won’t be as stringent as the rule book allows them to be, but they have promised severe measures for excessive violations….
OK. OK…. if we’re just talking about Rules That Are Already In Place and Not Being Obeyed, then it is high time, etc.
Yes, the commissioner is considering some measures that Go Too Far, such as limiting catcher-pitcher conferences on the mound. THAT would be meddling with the essence of the game, and completely unacceptable. Catchers should and must be free to spend as much time as they see fit calming their pitchers down. Without that, it’s not baseball.
But I think I can live with rules that say, if you’re getting paid to play ball, get into the batter’s box and stay there until the job is done. That’s what Pop Fischer would tell them to do. I think that’s within the spirit of the game.
Changing baseball is and always will be unacceptable, going back to the outrage of the lively ball (yeah, I’ve read a lot of Ring Lardner — so?). But changing it back — why, that sounds like a good thing to me.
What say you?