As I mentioned in a previous column, Major League Baseball (MLB) has changed its intentional walk rule. The question is why. Baseball executives say games drag on too long.
Here’s what the president of the Florida Marlins had to say. "Pace of game is critical. We know that from our fans and television partners. We have to recognize the reality of life, today, which is that attention spans are going down and choices are going up. Whatever business you're in, you have to adjust."
Traditionalists, of course, don’t like the move. What do traditionalists know about the breakneck pace of contemporary life and the short attention spans of the Instagram generation? Of course, baseball needs to be speeded up, big time! Cricket changed; so can baseball.
The problem is that, as one commentator calculated, an intentional walk occurs once in every four or five games. Thus, this one change is not going to make much of a difference. More needs doing. Although it’s true that the commissioner of baseball has said he is investigating the curtailment of trips to the mound and the introduction of a pitch clock, the time is ripe for a few suggestions from, shall we say, deep left field.
It seems to me that one broad-brush approach to take is to cut off the possibility of an infinitely long game, perhaps the very thing that traditionalists worship most. For instance, it’s theoretically possible that a player could spend the rest of his natural life, and ours, fouling off two-strike pitches. Why is a foul ball a strike one or strike two, but not a strike three? Why not limit the number of pitches a batter can foul off with two strikes against him, so that the next time he fouls off, he is out. It would not only shorten a game but add drama. Pitchers could count on throwing a finite number of times. Fielders would have to worry less about crashing into the stands to catch foul balls. Therefore, spectators would have to worry less about s dousing with beer and popcorn. Only dry-cleaners would shed tears.
Would you like to have been around on 12 August 1894 to watch Boston beat Cincinnati by a score of 43-11? Would you have preferred to watch the Chicago White Sox beat the Milwaukee Brewers 7-6, in a 1984 game that lasted eight hours and six minutes?
What’s wrong with limiting each batter to one plate appearance per inning or limiting the number of runs a team can score per inning? How does away with extra innings sit with you? What is more frustrating than seeing the shortstop for the team you are not rooting for hit a solo homer off a full count with two out in the top of the 15th and then watching your team strand a man at third in the bottom of the inning? You lose both the game and your full night’s sleep.
The answer, I guess, is deciding to go to bed, with the visitors enjoying a seven-run lead in the top of the fifteenth inning. When you awaken, you discover the home team scored eight runs in the bottom of the inning. You missed all the excitement because you’re not a true fan.
Wouldn’t it have been better to know that the game ended after nine innings, and the result went down as an honorable tie? What’s wrong with a tie? Ask English soccer fans why they watch all those ‘nil-nil’ ties with such fervour; let me know if you find out. If a tie result is a non-starter, then come up with a tiebreaker rule. Let the pitchers compete in a home run derby, or have fans vote on which team got their uniforms the dirtier; anything to get it over with.
There are plenty of other speed-up possibilities apart from the infinity issues. The infield fly rule, for instance, could be supplemented by an ‘outfield fly’ rule that states if a fair pop up takes longer than three seconds to travel between bat and glove, the batter is automatically out. Another major waster is the throw to first base to hold the runner. Why doesn’t it simply count as a ball? That would teach pitchers to be more selective in their pickoff moves. Why do batters always ask for and receive permission to step out of the box to regroup? It’s technically impossible for one individual to regroup and, if the hitter needs a respite from the pressure of the at bat, maybe he should be playing little league ball. Perhaps worst of all, pitchers should not be allowed time just to glare at batters; they should get on with the job of pitching, which is what they are paid to do.
Yes, there is plenty about baseball, which could speed up the game. Traditionalists be damned.
Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.
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