I don’t know what MLB is doing
(And I don’t think they do either)


I do believe baseball has lost its mind.

And I think I can prove it. But first, we need to establish a few things.

One the absolute greatest-but-often-forgotten moments in baseball history took place in 1972, with the Oakland A’s playing the Cincinnati Reds. Rollie Fingers was on the mound and Johnny Bench at bat. Two Hall of Fame players. Game three of the World Series.

I want you to just think about that for a moment before we move along. World series… two Hall of Famers. Happens. We kind find all sorts of examples of superstars and legends facing off in the biggest of moments. For now though… worth noting… big moment, great players.

As the at bat started, the Reds were winning 1-0 in the eighth inning. Runners were on first and third when Bench walked to the plate. After a few pitches, the count was essentially breaking as a draw, the runner on first had stolen second, and manager Dick Williams came out to the mound. Time to abandon pitching to Bench and issue the free pass to load them up.

Williams went through it all… motioning to first base and indicating he wanted Fingers to walk Bench. What he actually told Fingers was that they were going to do everything, up to and including catcher Gene Tenace standing and calling for it, to signal an intentional walk to Bench. They weren’t going to do it though. With a full count, and after Williams had told him not to throw a fastball, Fingers threw a beautiful breaking ball to strike him out looking.

When telling the story later, Fingers says he was stunned at the idea, but he delivered what he called the best slider he ever pitched.

A fake intentional walk… and it worked… with one Hall of Fame player striking out another Hall of Fame player in a World Series at bat.


It also gets lost… goes untold… most never knowing the story. One of those amazing footnotes of baseball history. And a moment that may be impossible to recreate.

Today, Major League Baseball approved a rule change that allows for an intentional walk to be executed without throwing any pitches. While some details have not been released or clarified, the basic idea is that the umpire can be signaled or told of a team’s intention to walk a batter. At that time, the hitter will be sent to first base.

One brilliant aspect of a baseball game to me is how many things can happen on any single play. For example, during the old reliable four-pitch intentional walk, you could have a wild pitch or a batter swinging at anything close. Or, you could have a terrific moment on the game’s biggest stage.

I should probably point out here that I support Rob Manfred—baseball’s commissioner—in his attempts to speed up the game. It is played at an appallingly god awful pace now that defies all ability to be watched on television without switching channels. If that means making adjustments such as restricting visits to the mound, putting a timer on pitches, or modifying the strike zone, then I get it. While I tend to treasure history and tradition, I am not going to assume the mantel of a purist. (I repeat… god awful pace. Borderline unwatchable.)

But the elimination of the intentional walk… or rather, the elimination of having to execute it… bothers me. I think it’s a step in the wrong direction. I don’t think it makes sense. It is most definitely not even one of those (my quotes) “a small step that adds together with other small steps to make one big step” kind of actions. And to support why I think it’s a misstep that may also be a sign for greater concern, we need to head to the minor leagues.

This year there are plans to test a new procedure. The basic idea can be summed up like this: if a game is tied after nine innings are completed, each new half inning will begin with a runner placed at second base.

We can—and should—begin the kicking and screaming by asking questions related to how the scorecard might look. Consider: Just two groundouts could score a run. How is that reflected when statistics like earned and unearned runs come into play for a pitcher?

Moving on from statistical to sarcastic statements about how stupid a concept it is, we could follow that up by asking when alternative possibilities such as holding a home run derby to decide a winner instead of playing out extra innings were removed from consideration.

And before you decided I’m crazy for wondering about statistics and record-keeping, or think I’m kidding about the home run derby idea, please offer a moment to both. Because the reality is, even when ridiculously abstract or so far out of the box it should be pushed back in thinking, with such a change as has been announced you’re basically saying that after nine innings you’re going to dramatically alter the way every inning is played from that point on. In short… the rule change changes the rules while play is in progress.

But unlike something like not allowing a hitter to step out of the batter’s box between pitches, the runner on second to start an inning is not going to be enforced from the first pitch of the game through the last.

What’s that? Soccer and football and hockey and more have overtime changes?

Well… yes they do. Those are also far more physically violent sports that also utilize clocks to determine the ending of play. (See… I even responded without directing your attention from a sudden death shootout in soccer to a comparison involving a home run derby.)

If you want to discuss depleting staffs in extra innings, then work out some rule that allows for rotating an additional pitcher or two onto some type of exemption. Perhaps allow each team to approach every game with an increased though restricted twenty-seven man roster by naming two pitchers before that can only be used in that contest during extra innings. Heck, teams already dance with roster changes in the bullpen. I’m sure the union would love to work out the details on something that increases the number of players getting service time on the major league roster.

Back to the overall issue at hand, I see both of these ideas as novelty solutions to problems that either don’t exist or should be addressed through better actions. I don’t see how either change improves the game. I don’t see how either increases the audience or gets someone to tune in.

One of the greatest arguments baseball had as a sport was the limitless opportunities and strategy possible at any time. That even without a clock, three strikes went into an out and three outs ended an inning. That each team had a balanced and equal number of opportunities.

I can only hope that as the game looks to improve, somehow the next options for making it better will involve fewer raised eyebrows.


If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com