A common assumption these days about our national pastime is that we’re passing too much time watching baseball games. Not only are the games too long, there’s too little action during a game. With home-run hungry ballplayers striking out at an alarming rate, the percentage of baseballs put in play is at a record low.
To shorten games and stimulate more action, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred wants to bring a clock to a sport that has often been admired and praised because it isn’t limited by time. He wants a 20-second pitch clock, a two-minute time limit on instant replay reviews, a limit on the number of visits to the mound by catchers and managers, a lower strike zone, and the elimination of a four-pitch intentional walk.
Players have been hostile to Manfred’s proposed changes. They’ve argued that the uniqueness of baseball is that, unlike football and basketball, it has no clock and that imposing time limits will destroy the game’s beauty and legacy. Texas Ranger Jonathan Lucroy, in an interview with USA TODAY Sports, said that he understood “trying to speed up the game, but this isn’t football. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Feeling the pressure to speed up the game, the players’ union agreed to several minor changes going into the 2017 season, including changing the intentional walk. Instead of throwing four wide pitches to walk a batter intentionally, a manager can now simply wave the batter to first base. The idea, of course. is not original to baseball. When I was playing slow-pitch softball in the Carbondale Park District league, a pitcher could walk a hitter by waving him to first base.
If baseball really wants to shorten games, perhaps it should consider adopting other softball rules. Softball games, for example, are usually played in six innings, so reducing a baseball game from nine to six innings would, on average, shorten a baseball game by one hour and eliminate the need to stop serving beer after the seventh inning.
Runners in softball aren’t allowed to take leads and can’t run until the batter makes contact with the ball, so changing to softball rules for base runners would eliminate all those annoying pick-off throws to first base by the pitcher. Of course, it would also eliminate the stolen base and the hit-and-run, but with less reason to watch the game, fans would have more time to take selfies to prove to their BFFs that they were at the game.
Baseball can also eliminate all those tedious strikeouts by changing the overhand delivery of the ball to the underhand lob used in softball. To keep salivating batters from swinging for the fences and turning the game into a home run derby, baseball can make all balls hit over the fence an out, which would also eliminate the need to bulk up with performance enhancing drugs.
Forced to keep the ball in the park, batters will have to “hit ‘em where they ain’t,” to quote Hall-of-Famer Wee Willie Keeler, and, in the process, force defenses to eliminate all those extreme infield shifts. But baseball can help defenses by using ten fielders, as they do in softball.
When I tried out my idea for speeding up the game on my wife Anita, she just shook her head and said using softball rules for baseball was the silliest thing I’d ever come up with and she’s heard me come up with plenty of silly things. She said there’s only one thing wrong with baseball today and it has nothing to do with the pace of the game.
Anita doesn’t like the sloppy way most players wear their pants down around their ankles. It makes players look like they don’t know how to wear baseball pants. The knickers look is a part of baseball tradition, so she thinks that players should not be allowed on the field until they roll up their pants.
As for those who think that baseball is too slow and boring, Anita wonders what’s wrong with spending a few hours relaxing at the ballpark. Perhaps, in an age obsessed with texting, it’s our limited attention span and not baseball that’s the real problem.
Reading Baseball is a series of stories and commentaries by Richard “Pete” Peterson, author of Growing Up With Clemente and Pops:The Willie Stargell Story.