Life is full of pleasurable things that don’t need to be speeded up. Consider the fine dinner with enjoyable company and a more than passable wine. Reading the well-written novel. Listening to classical music. And of course, there are certain human encounters, which we need not be specific about in a family publication, that should not be rushed to conclusion.
At least one more thing should be added to this list — which I won’t attempt to arrange in order of importance — of things that don’t need to be speeded up: baseball games. But just because the last thing baseball needs is a bunch of new rules out of the commissioner’s office to hurry things along doesn’t mean we won’t get them. Current commissioner Rob Manfred has complained that baseball games are too long, are too full of inaction, and need some top-down improvement. He’s wrong.
Recent evolutions have led to baseball games being longer now than in the past, the average MLB contest being slightly longer than three hours now (still shorter than your average NFL game, which George Will once described as “12 minutes of violence and three hours of committee meetings”). And there is more time now between when the ball is put in play. The culprits include more pitching changes, more walks and strikeouts thanks to harder throwing pitchers, more deep counts as teams try to run the opposing pitcher’s pitch count up, and, of course, there’s the endless futzing around with batting gloves (a fairly recent invention of the devil that the game managed to survive for more than a century without).
The above are things the game has evolved into and which the game should be allowed to evolve out of without rules changes. Especially without adding clocks, which are fine for football and basketball. But God did not intend for baseball games to end with a walk-off hit at the buzzer. As Yogi might have phrased it, “The game’s over when it’s over.” Not when some damn clock says it is.
It’s hard to see what the urgency is to make baseball more urgent. Attendance (except at the Trop in St. Petersburg) and TV viewership are high. The game seems to be financially healthy, even though player salaries are insanely excessive and ticket prices usurious. None of my baseball pals have complained to me about how long games take.
To the extent real baseball fans complain it’s usually about the price of beer at the park, the ear-splitting between-inning “music” that has replaced the nice lady who used to play the organ, and things done recently to “improve” the game, Prosecution Exhibit A being play-call challenges which stop the game for waaay too long. Talk about a time extender and a pace breaker. MLB has more techno-wizbangery in New York than NASA had in Houston when it put a man on the moon in ’69. But it still takes it four minutes to decide if a base-runner’s foot hit the bag before he was tagged. One easy way to pick up the pace of baseball games would be to turn them back over to the field umpires. These guys are imperfect, but so are the players and the fans.
I’ve no doubt that Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred is a very bright guy. So he should be nimble enough to know that the person who is not engaged by a three-hour baseball game will not be charmed by one that is a mere two and a half hours long. Those who don’t like baseball because it requires more of an attention span than they can muster should simply not watch it. The guy whose first thought as he settles into his seat at the ball yard is, “When will I be able to get out of here?” shouldn’t be there in the first place.
There’s plenty of action in baseball. Pitching and hitting feature young athletes performing at the outer limits of physical potential. And the strategy and tactics in baseball are almost endless. But these and the game’s considerable charm are only available to those who understand the game and can take in the details of a game, which, when fully comprehended, moves almost too quickly to be kept up with. There’s no more mystery in why folks uninitiated in or unappreciative of the intricacies of this game are bored with it than there is in why I fell asleep at Cats.
Our oldest and most traditional game does change over time. Some changes have been for the better. Others, not so much (see above). But the game’s considerable charm is in the way it stays the same. Baseball leadership over the decades, for all its faults, has mostly been wise enough to resist making basic rules changes (I know, I know — there’s the DH — I’m working on that). Rob Manfred should stay in this tradition. Baseball ain’t broke. He shouldn’t try to fix it. Mucking about with the rules will just annoy real baseball fans while not creating any new ones.