do believe baseball has lost its mind.
I think I can prove it. But first, we need to establish a few
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.
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,
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.
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.
telling the story later, Fingers says he was stunned at the idea,
but he delivered what he called the best slider he ever pitched.
fake intentional walk… and it worked… with one Hall of Fame player
striking out another Hall of Fame player in a World Series at
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
that? Soccer and football and hockey and more have overtime changes?
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
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.
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.
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.
can only hope that as the game looks to improve, somehow the next
options for making it better will involve fewer raised eyebrows.