CHARLOTTE, NC, March 27, 2018 – As winter dissolves into spring so, too, does the world of sports as baseball renews its summertime marathon. It is an annual rite of spring where sports seasons change with the same regularity as blossoming flowers in March and April.
One thing that used to be a given during the seasonal athletic transitions has, in recent years, become a sad commentary on our changing times. Today’s modern lifestyles have begun to infringe upon the games we love, and have loved, so dearly for decades.
Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and The Fourth of July
For more than a century baseball was as American as hot dogs, apple pie and parades on the Fourth of July. Purists loved it because the games we watched each year were pretty much played with the same set of rules as they were a hundred years ago.
It was part of the tradition. It was comfort food for the sports appetite.
Basketball has evolved into a game of jumping giants. Football is now one long instant replay review after another with so many camera angles that determine a referee’s decision that it bogs down in minutia that defies description.
The steady hand of baseball
Baseball can almost always be counted on to be the same this year as it was last year. It was a game played by athletes of all sizes and shapes. It was a game of speed and power and anticipation and acrobatic defense played on a human scale by normal sized people.
But most of all, the rules were the same from one year to the next with a minimum amount of alteration.
Baseball followed the age-old adage of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
With the growing popularity of football as the nation’s favorite game, however, the knock on baseball for many years has been that it is an anachronism because the pace is too slow to interest today’s fans.
As a result, the diamond gods have been trying desperately with little or no success to figure out ways to speed up the game.
Baseball then and now
In the 40s and 50s, an average baseball game took a little more than two hours to play. Today a game takes a little under three hours.
There are reasons for that which have nothing to do with the game itself other than the age of specialization. In the middle of the 20th century, there were no pitch counts. A starting pitcher went as long as he could until his catcher would signal to the manager that he was losing his “stuff.”
A relief pitcher would enter the game and mop up for one, two or three innings, thereby reducing the endless trips to the mound by managers and catchers or the statistical concept of pitching to a single batter before changing pitchers again.
There was no such thing as a “closer” who specialized in getting the final three outs of a game. Nor was there the mythical magic number of 100 pitches to determine whether a pitcher should leave the mound. A hundred pitches for Pedro Martinez was not the same as a hundred pitches for Curt Schilling if, for no other reason, than their body size and the resilience of their arms.
Suddenly baseball has been caught up in the same whirlwind madness that defines modern American sports today.
Does Baseball need to be fixed
Is the game too slow? Probably. Can they fix it? Probably not without making drastic changes.
In recent years, baseball has experimented in the minor leagues with a pitch clock. Even with the stopwatch running, games are still in the three-hour range. Why? Partly because the clock is inconsistent and doesn’t really accurately measure the time between pitches.
Major league baseball has adopted the intentional walk rule where a manager simply tells an ump to put a man on first without pitching to him. Overall that saves about a minute to a minute and a half.
Besides, an intentional pass usually comes as a strategy late in the game after it is already three hours old.
Batters and pitchers have become more sophisticated. Batters take more pitches which lengthens their at-bats. They also foul off considerably more pitches.
Pitchers go deeper in counts in an effort to confuse batters and get them to swing at his weakness.
And then there are those endless trips to the mound and pitching changes which have become rampant in recent years.
Add in the extra time allotted for the review of a call by an umpire and there is another reason the pace of baseball has slowed.
Now, for one seriously ridiculous idea
This year, the minor leagues will experiment this season with the idea of starting a runner at second base from the tenth inning onward of an extra-inning game.
That isn’t baseball. It is tantamount to a shootout in soccer or hockey that destroys the character of the game.
If baseball wants to seriously speed up the time of its games, it needs to seek out more realistic solutions without tampering with its age-old traditions.
Societal changes made football more popular than baseball, not the game itself. All major sports are treading in water that is over their heads if they continue to adjust the games as we know them.
If we could come back in a hundred years to witness the evolution of the sports we truly love today, we would probably be very disappointed at how they have evolved.
Lead Image: By Victorgrigas - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20655376
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who travels throughout the world. Taylor is an award-winning television producer, reporter, and broadcast anchor who now focuses on writing about international events, people, and cultures around the globe.
He is the founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com) with the goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime
Editors Note: Support Bob’s GoFundMe to give him a hand up