CHARLOTTE, NC, February 14, 2017 – Major League Baseball’s Valentine’s gift to fans who love the game is a batch of rules changes that are not only foolish but will damage the game.
For the moment there are three proposals on the table. Two have been discussed on numerous occasions before and never amounted to anything, while the third is so outrageous it seems more like an April Fool’s prank than a genuine change.
First is the often tried, never successful, attempt to raise the bottom of the strike zone. In theory the idea should work, but in reality it never does. Why? Because umpires are human, not robots, and each has his own personal opinion of what is a strike and what it is not.
Sometimes the lords of baseball will pass down a judgement that the new rule will be strictly enforced, but three weeks into the season nobody is paying attention and the umps revert back to their individual interpretations.
Baseball gods have installed electronic equipment in MLB stadiums that are similar to the “magic boxes” we see on the television screen to accurately show whether a call was correct or not. The equipment, known as “PITCHf/x”, is supposed to be a training tool for umpires to compare their calls against an actual pitch.
The problem for umpires is that during games they stand behind the catcher and, depending upon which shoulder they look over, frequently determines an official’s perspective.
As for speeding up the game, which is primarily what the rules changes are all about, a new strike zone will not alter much in the way of time once batters adjust to it.
The next modification has to do with the automatic base on balls. Purists say the pitcher should throw all four pitches because a batter could swing or the pitcher could throw a wild pitch. It has happened, but not very often.
On the other hand, simply telling the batter/runner to take first base happens infrequently over the course of a game, so the amount of time saved on a batter is only about two minutes max. That is hardly the amount of time baseball gurus want to trim from a game.
That being the case, leave the rule as it is and perhaps, once in a blue moon, something will happen during the four pitch process to intentionally walk a batter.
Now we come to one of the most absurd suggestions in the annals of a sport that thrives on tradition. The proposal is to put a runner on second base at the start of every inning in an extra inning game!
To begin with, it is the length of regular games that is causing the problem, not extra innings games. Most fans enjoy it when they get “free baseball” in an extended game.
Besides, over the course of a season, a team might play a total of 10 extra innings games. That is hardly worth upsetting a century of history in order to make the clock move faster.
The NFL has an overtime system in place which is almost as unsatisfying as the baseball proposal. In professional football, the team that wins the coin toss in extra time has a huge advantage over their opponent.
Soccer has resorted to a shoot-out system which is exciting for the fans, but the reality is that the game is not decided by playing a pure version of the sport. In many cases in soccer, a shoot-out takes the game away from the guys who played for 90-minutes.
The same is true with putting a runner on second to start each extra inning. Baseball then becomes an exercise in luck more than skill and it is all done in the name of speeding up the sport.
If the powers that be want to modify baseball to make it around two hours long, here is the ultimate alteration which would absolutely do the job. Instead of four balls making a walk, change it to three, and make two strikes for an out rather than three.
Not only would pitching stats soar, so would the number of no-hitters and perfect games, but it is guaranteed that baseball would played at a much faster pace.
Another option would be to play seven-inning games instead of nine. That would work too, but the player’s association would scream “bloody murder” at what that would do to baseball records in a sport that thrives on statistics.
Here’s the best idea, leave well enough alone and just “Plaaay Baaall!”
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Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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