SPECIAL FOR RANDOM CARDINAL STATS:
In all fairness, not every game played on Sunday was a disaster. Philadelphia scored a decent number of runs (14) as it smashed Cincinnati, and Washington’s 7-6 win over Cleveland was, at least, close.
But by-and-large the Sunday games saw a resurgence of that most dreaded occurrence – the pitchers’ duel. Of the fourteen Sunday contests, six saw fewer than six total runs scored. Three of those saw fewer than three total runs scored: the Yankees eked past Minnesota 2-0, on the strength of a two-hit complete game shutout tossed by Gerrit Cole; behind seven shutout innings from Luis Castillo, Seattle won a 1-0 game over Colorado; and in another 1-0 game, Milwaukee’s Wade Miley prevailed over San Diego’s Yu Darvish. The only run scored in the Milwaukee-San Diego contest scored on a sacrifice fly.
Of these games, the New York game was, perhaps, the most disappointing. The Yankee lineup – after all – features Aaron Judge, who bears the responsibility that comes with holding the American League’s single-season home run record. His presence alone would be worth untold viewers, all hoping to be a part of his 2023 campaign to break his own record. Aaron went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts.
So, that made for 27 innings of “baseball” that saw just 4 runs scored, just 3 extra-base hits, and just one home run – the Yankees’ DJ LeMahieu doubled a 1-0 New York lead with a solo sixth-inning home run off of Pablo Lopez. From the moment baseball decided to abandon its traditional fans and prostitute its game in an effort to earn the attention (however fleeting) of the short-attention-span generation – baseball’s “Neo”-fans – it has been not-so-secretly dreading afternoons like this.
Help on the Way
The good news for all of the Neo’s that changed their channels on Sunday is that help is on the way. My sources inside the commissioner’s office report that rule changes are in the works that will make afternoons like last Sunday infinitely more difficult. But they will take a year or two to implement. Coming to a minor league ballpark near you will be “adjustments” like the banning of certain pitches (the slider and the sinker are the first two that will go on the list), and the removal of a fielder from the defensive alignment (the future of baseball will have a pitcher, a catcher, three outfielders and three infielders). Again, though, these are a way off.
Truthfully, MLB knew that there would still be the occasional pitching duel. Bitterly disappointing on Sunday, though, were the game times of those pitching duels. With the imposition of the pitch timer this season, baseball struck a tacit understanding with its new generation of “fans.” This wasn’t explicitly spelled out – certainly not in terms that could be legally enforceable – but the unwritten consequence of the faster-paced game was that – in the event that the Neo might have to sit through a pitcher’s duel – under no circumstances should that contest last two hours. It makes sense, right? If no one is going to be hitting or scoring and the pitch needs to keep coming out within 15 seconds, there is literally no way a 1-0 or 2-0 game could drag on for two hours or more.
It, therefore, goes without saying that there was great angst in the major league offices when the game reports showed the Yankee game lasting 2:07, the Seattle game grinding through 2:19, and the Milwaukee game – a 1-0 game! – consuming a mind-blowing 2:22. Imagine 142 soul-sucking minutes with only a sacrifice fly to show for your afternoon. It’s the kind of non-event that could chase a Neo away from baseball forever.
While more thorough legislative action against pitchers is still forthcoming, the commissioner’s think tank spent all Sunday evening and all day Monday furiously assembling “adjustments” to the game that should guarantee that no 1-0 game should ever again pass the 119 minute limit. This correspondent has obtained for my dedicated readers a full listing of the changes that will further transform the pastime formerly known as “baseball.” These reports were entrusted to me under conditions of strict anonymity, and baseball is under orders to deny all of these initiatives until they are ready themselves to announce them (probably sometime around the All-Star Break).
We Don’t Need All These Seconds
The first changes will involve a tightening of the clocks already in place. Thirty seconds for the next batter to report to the batter’s box is too long by a third. Give him twenty seconds. There’s nothing wrong with seeing the next batter sprint from the on-deck circle, arriving at the plate just in time to take a swing at that first pitch. It’ll add a little energy to the game, right?
Also, the expanding of the pitch clock to twenty seconds with a runner on base is a bad idea. The pitcher doesn’t really have anything worthwhile to do with the extra time. In the old days, he could hold the ball and wait the runner out. Today, though, the runner knows the pitcher is limited to three pickoff throws, and that the clock is ticking on his next pitch. Nothing of any import will happen in those extra five seconds, so baseball should take them back.
We Also Don’t Really Need Replay
An incident that occurred in a St. Louis/Colorado game last week sparked another breakthrough idea. On a potential force-play at the plate, pitcher Drew VerHagen’s short toss forced catcher Willson Contreras’ foot off the plate, allowing Charlie Blackmon (in the opinion of umpire Shane Livensparger) to score. However, realizing that his foot was off the plate, Contreras turned and clearly tagged Blackmon before he stepped on the plate. It’s the kind of error that replay was established to correct. But the Cardinals didn’t call for the replay within their allotted fifteen seconds and lost the right.
Suppose for a moment, though, that the Cards had called for the replay within the permitted time. What would have happened? The game would have come to a complete stop, that’s what. For several mind-numbing minutes, everything would stop while they reviewed the play to get the call right.
Years ago, that kind of thing would matter. A wrong call could lead to the wrong team winning the game. That used to be a big deal. In 2023, though, you have to question if that kind of thing is still important enough to stop the game over. Shouldn’t we be asking if replay is still relevant to the game? Do we still really need it?
Consider the plight of the Neo. He’s trying valiantly to make it through the game. Maybe it’s been two or three innings since someone has hit a home run, and he’s now strongly tempted to pick up his phone and play a game that will actually hold his interest. And now, the game that he’s trying to survive will actually come to a dead halt while some pin-head in New York takes five minutes to decide if a defender missed a tag or not? Really? Come on, you’re killing me here.
Now, yes, from time-to-time some team is going to suffer the consequence of a blown call. But it’s a small price to pay. And I should remind all you upset traditionalists out there, that this is actually the “traditional” way. For most of its existence, the judgement of the umpire – right or wrong – was the only word on any play.
But, of course, we don’t want to lean too heavily on tradition, because the rest of these suggestions break rather heavily with tradition.
Do We Really Need All of These Pitches?
The four-ball, three-strike standard emerged in the late nineteenth century, and came about as a result of trial-and-error. Over baseball’s early years, several variations were tried, and four balls for a walk and three strikes for a strikeout seemed to be what “worked best.” What this means is that there’s nothing sacred about that arrangement. If four-and-three suited a twentieth century sensibility, who’s to say the twenty-first century won’t have a different take on things. Why can’t three balls be a walk, and two strikes be a strikeout? It’s exactly the same dynamic – it just gets to the point quicker.
Oh, and all these fouls after two strikes? They gotta go. In softball you get one foul with two-strikes on you. The second foul will count as strike three. That rule will transfer, giving the batter one foul with one strike on him, and the next foul resulting in a strikeout.
In fact, out of this discussion came a very interesting proposition. What if the arrangement were two-and-two. Two strikes for a strikeout and two balls for a walk? Knowing that he can only miss outside the strike zone once would almost compel the pitcher to throw a lot more first-pitch fastballs, which would encourage a lot more swinging at (and hitting of) the first pitch. This could literally kill two birds with one pitch – hastening play by increasing the number of one-pitch at bats, while at the same time encouraging offense by giving hitters more hittable pitches early in the count.
I expect that this will be the version that will make it out of committee.
Let’s Talk About the Ninth Inning
This brings us to the ninth inning. Do we really need it? Honestly, isn’t eight innings of baseball enough? With all of these other changes implemented, by the time we’ve survived eight innings, this event should – on average – be hitting the 90-100 minute mark. About the length of an Adam Sandler movie. Isn’t that enough? Truthfully, anything that takes nine innings to decide can just as easily be decided in eight. Bring your closers out in the eighth. Your starter now only has to go four innings to qualify for the win – it all adjusts seamlessly. Like replay and ball three, the ninth inning has outlived its usefulness.
And Finally, No More Extra-Innnings
Extra-innings have been an irritant since the beginning of the speedy game initiative. Time, now, to permanently retire them – ghost runner and all. This is the best suggestion of all. In the event that the game is tied after eight innings, we immediately go into home-run derby mode.
Can you imagine anything more thrilling than the spectacle of large men driving meatball pitches over the outfield walls over and over and over and over? I certainly can’t. Apparently, neither can the Neo. This is, in fact, sure to be his/her favorite part of the “new” baseball. I can imagine MLB developing an entire app dedicated to notifying followers of games that are about to slip into overtime.
A Little Patience
In all of this, the offices of major league baseball earnestly solicit your patience. The Twentieth Century left this old game in quite a mess, and it will take some time to clean it up. But the promise is that if you are patient, fixes will come.
Give us a couple more years, and I promise that you won’t recognize the game.