Something must happen to you when you become a baseball writer.
I had always supposed that would be a terrific gig – getting paid to watch and then comment on baseball games. But once it becomes your job, I suppose it must become like every other job – a soul draining grind. My heart goes out to these former fans, now imprisoned in the press box forced, probably, to shove needles into their palms in order to stay awake long enough to get to the next home run.
For many of them, their only hope seems to be to turn the grand old game into a spectacle. Sam Miller – a sometimes columnist for ESPN – seems to be one of those. By his resume, it looks like he used to be a baseball fan. But now the game seems to bore him.
In his glorious review of the 2020 extra-innings rule, Mr. Miller emphasizes the new – the spectacle, if you will, of the new rules. To quote him:
“Rather than force routinized late-game strategies, putting a runner on second base to start each half-inning has created more variety. The most exciting baseball played this week has come in those six innings, which — in a mere two hours of total baseball! — included:
A walk-off grand slam.
A rare 3-5 fielder’s choice to cut down a go-ahead run.
A rookie doubling home a run on the first pitch of his big league career.
Just one sacrifice bunt.
One strikeout in the attempting of a sacrifice bunt.
A go-ahead runner caught stealing third — and that call then being overturned.
Home run champ Pete Alonso batting as the tying run, down by three runs.
A pickle involving Shohei Ohtani as the possible go-ahead run.
Two wild pitches that moved the winning run to third base (and two game-saving blocks on impossible-to-block pitches).
Two hit batsmen.
Eight batters hitting with the infield in.
A 12-pitch walk.
Multiple close plays at the plate.
And baseball’s ultimate improbability: A walk-off triple.
Geez, Sam, if all it takes to get you excited is a little novelty, then why stop there? There’s a world of spectacle out there that hasn’t even been explored yet.
Why not start every inning with a runner at second? Or better still, let’s put a great big wheel of fortune on the field, and at the start of every inning, the manager of the team coming to bat gets to spin that wheel to determine how many baserunners he gets to start the inning with and which bases they get to start on. (The fun of this is that there can be a “bust” space on the wheel, which, when it comes up, will cost the team its entire inning and put the defensive team back up to bat. Wouldn’t that be hysterical! Just imagine the look on the manager’s face!)
But there are way more opportunities than that. Why don’t we erect basketball stands just behind each on deck circle? Every time a player hits the ball, two of his teammates start shooting baskets. How ever many shots they sink during the time it takes to complete the play will be additional runs added to their score. Imagine, those lucky fans will have so much going on they won’t know where to look!
Even better, what if the defensive team was allowed to position a linebacker in each basepath, and to advance to any base, the baserunners will have to avoid the linebacker’s attempt at what would amount to an open field tackle. This could be great because a fight could break out – eliciting the interests of both football and hockey fans.
Or how about this. Ring the outfield walls with enormous hoops and set them on fire. Then, behind each hoop we can set up a pin-ball like mechanism, so that if the batter hits the ball through the hoop, it will land in the pin-ball mechanism and bounce around and around lighting up all the scoreboards and racking up hundreds of points with every ping.
Wow! No one could ever call that game boring.
Any one of these fabulous ideas would do wonders for the spectacle aspect of baseball – and as such might even be momentarily appealing to the short-attention-span-MTV-generation.
But it wouldn’t be baseball – not anymore than the designated hitter or the automatic runner at second would be. (Parenthetically, no one is suggesting that this extra-inning nonsense should apply to the playoffs. As opposed to meaningless regular season games that must only be endured, playoff games apparently matter.)
There is an abiding misperception that baseball fans cling to the game’s tradition because that is the only thing that’s important, and perhaps the only thing the game has to offer – that nothing else matters as long as we are watching the same game that they played a hundred years ago. The truth is actually the other way around. The game has lasted a hundred years plus because it’s beautiful and perfect.
If two tourists landed at the doors of the Louvre with paint brushes and buckets with a great idea of re-painting the Mona Lisa to make her more relevant to this generation (shouldn’t she be holding a cell phone?) these vandals would be immediately deported from France with the mandate that they never return. But baseball has no such protection, and what the restless and shallow fans along with the jaded sportswriters really want is to “dabble” in baseball the way they do the other sports – a couple of Sports Center highlights here, a semi-relevant statistic there.
And by all means let’s get those extra innings wrapped up as quickly as possible. For God’s sake let’s not subject ourselves to any more baseball than is absolutely necessary. Jeez, people, really? Look, why not just flip a coin after nine innings and call it a day – a resolution, by the way, not much less valid than the current solution.
Baseball, for your general information, already had the perfect arrangement to deal with games that were tied after regulation. All other sports have had to jerry-rig some kind of overtime period to extend the game, and all have struggled, to some degree or other, to arrive at a fair opportunity for both teams.
Baseball comes already structured with discreet units of play called “innings” which provide each team with its requisite three outs. If the visiting team scores in the top of the inning, the game doesn’t end. The home team will still get its three outs in the bottom of the inning. Honestly, this doesn’t need to be messed with.
Yes, occasionally these games do run a little on the long side. Counting playoff games, the Cards have played 3378 games this century. Exactly 256 of them have gone into extra-innings (7.6%). Of those 256 games, 115 have gone just one additional inning, and 63 others have lasted just one inning in addition to that. Games that have gone 12 or more innings constitute just 30.5% of all extra-inning games, and just 2.3% of all games played. Extra-innings notwithstanding, the Cards have played in only 90 games this century (2.7%) that have lasted four hours or more. Is it really necessary to do this aberrant thing to this beautiful game simply because less than three percent of the contests might run a bit longer than expected?
For those of you not intimate with baseball, those extra-inning contests are actually an important if mostly unnoticed aspect of a season. Inherent in each teams’ quest to win the championship is the expectation that they will meet the challenge represented by competing in the games following a long extra-inning game. That intermittent challenge to the depth of a pitching staff is one of the requisite hurdles a contending team must successfully navigate.
But, of course, to appreciate that you have to understand that the vast majority of baseball’s fandom is comprised of individuals who actually care about the fortunes of their favorite team. I know, how droll, right? And get this, for most of us it isn’t a matter of how many runs are or are not scored. Here’s a quiz, see how you do:
The Cardinal game has just ended and the fans are pouring out of Busch Stadium (this is in an alternate time-line when fans are allowed to see games). Jim is standing across the street waiting for a bus when he sees his friend Mike coming out of the stadium. He waves to him and says, “Hey Mikey, how was the game? Who won?” How does Mike answer?
- “I have no idea who won, I basically slept through the whole thing. What a boring game. No one hit a home run. Only one run scored – and that on a fly ball. Somebody won 1-0, but I couldn’t tell you who. It was the most excruciating two hours of my life – I may never go back.”
- “What a great, great game. Jack Flaherty was throwing daggers. He gave no runs on only two hits while striking out twelve. Harrison Bader scored from second on a deep flyball from Tommy Edman, and then ended the game with a spectacular catch in deep left-center. Cards win 1-0.”
If you answered “2,” there might still be hope for you. By the way, the most thrilling game I’ve watched in the last ten years was a 1-0 game. It was actually this game (sorry Philadelphia fans). It took about three hours for my heart-rate to come back to normal after that one.
I understand that this can be hard to fathom. One run scored in almost two and a half hours of baseball? How can that be entertaining?
It’s because baseball is so much more than the home run derby that the shallow fans want to turn it into. A tight pitching duel between two elite pitchers is – if you understand this game – one of baseball’s most electrifying gifts to its fans.
This shouldn’t be that had to comprehend – yet, I somehow get the feeling that it is. None of the gimmicks – designated hitters, exploding scoreboards, free runners on second base – add anything at all to the game. It’s the honesty of the 100-mph fastball. It’s the purity of the line-drive into the gap. It’s the poetry of the outfielder at full extension clasping the ball in the webbing of his glove. It’s the old game, the true game, in all of its pitcher-bunting-the runner-over-to-second glory.
As another aside, there have been several times that the fans in St Louis have given a pitcher a standing ovation for getting down a successful sacrifice bunt. I would like all of you “spectaclist” to try to wrap your minds around that. The most detested moment conceivable in your baseball universe – a pitcher standing obscenely at the plate with a bat in his hands executing that most excruciating of baseball’s small-ball standards – a bunt. And doing so, incredulously enough, to the unanimous and spontaneous approval of more than forty-thousand fans. Obviously, we see a different game than you do.
I understand that the short-attention-span generation can’t endure this, and I fear that baseball’s powers-that-be are contemplating changes that will bend the game more in their direction – hoping, I suppose, to somehow secure baseball’s future. Please believe me when I assure you that that is a lost cause. Nothing you can inflict on this game will hold their attention. Anyone who doesn’t have the attention span to endure a seven-pitch at bat will never hang with the game. No matter the bells and whistles, they will be playing with their phones by the third inning.
Could this, then, be the last generation of baseball fans? I think that is possible. But if it works out that way, if baseball dies with me and my generation, then at least let her go out with her dignity. Don’t tart her up like an 80-year-old grandmother wearing hot pants and too much rouge in an attempt to look 17 again.
The great game of baseball has been the great link in the generations of America stretching back to the days just after the Civil War. She deserves better than that.
My Designated Hitter Rant
For those who haven’t had enough of my ranting, I have another link for you.
As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably). If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH. Here is the link. If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.