It’s a load of complete crap, you know. All that stuff about baseball having never been changed from the moment Alexander Cartwright and his buddies devised of it, I mean. Yeah, it’s crap. Doesn’t exist. Real as the Curse of the Bambino.
I’ve taken to watching the old-timey ballgames played according to 1800’s rules at the Genesee Country Museum in upstate New York, and about the only things those games have in common with today’s is the basic object: Hit a ball, run the bases, and get home. This old-time league doesn’t allow so much as sliding. Throwing is underhanded, there are no trick pitches – the whole point of pitching is to get the ball into a position where the batter can hit it – and entire nine-inning, 27-out games are played within the space of maybe an hour. And no, there aren’t any weird time condenses. 27 outs. One hour. Maybe an hour and a half, if things are slow.
In the meantime, in Major League Baseball, the league with the greatest players in the world, I haven’t been able to watch a full World Series game in years. You can blame the length of the games for that.
Let the purists wine and scream all they want. Baseball’s pastural beauty argument has run its course. This sport is broken, and its lack of a timer is the unquestioned culprit. Our beloved National Pastime is falling behind because the average length of its games has shot up around three minutes a year for the last ten years to a record high 3:08 last season. That’s not the peak; that’s the average, meaning there were plenty of games which lasted considerably longer than that.
When people of generations older than my own tell me about their afternoons at the ballpark watching doubleheaders, it’s taking on a distinct air of phoniness. It’s like the older folks who actually got to see doubleheaders regularly are telling me stories of them more and more to reassure themselves that there was once a time when they happened. These days, baseball teams are barely able to squeeze one game into a single afternoon, and the sport has been slowed to such an extent that no one wants to see a thrilling comeback. Crowds are all gone by the seventh inning and one team up five runs because the batter walks ten feet from the box and spends two minutes adjusting his gloves between every pitch. Baseball’s boosters try to play up the amount of action in baseball by saying the game is always going while football players spend 30 seconds in huddles between plays. Well, no, they don’t. There’s a ton of time between pitches because of inconsequential little actions the players perform.
There’s no pastural beauty in any of that, and the wonder of baseball is lost on a generation that thinks of baseball season as nap time. The advanced statistics revolution also appears to be compounding the damage – walks are frequently seen to be as good as hits, so more batters are waiting; game strategies are based around pitchers being forced to throw until their arms fall off; and the prospect of striking out isn’t the embarrassment it used to be.
Whatever other sports you like – if you like any other – have something in common: They all recognized the need to keep the action moving upon being slowed. Football tightened restrictions on defensive players to encourage more passing, and some six or seven quarterbacks have thrown for 5000 yards in a single season since – a feat only ever accomplished once before the mid-millennium, in 1984, when Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins achieved the feat under an extraordinary set of circumstances. The NBA’s San Antonio Spurs became known for boring, methodical basketball which depended on strategic fouls meant to prevent their opponents from building up too much momentum, and exploited defensive rules at the cost of the sport’s flow. The NHL’s New Jersey Devils did something very similar to the spurs when they created the Neutral Zone Trap, a defensive maneuver which used the NHL’s stupid passing rules to force their opponents into playing dump and chase hockey. The Spurs and Devils were both highly successful – the Spurs have won five titles with their playing style and the Devils have won three, and other teams, encouraged by the success of both teams – although most notably the Devils – have followed suit, exploiting rules in order to make up for the lack of star power on their rosters. In both sports, executive interference was necessary to speed things back up.
Soccer gets maligned by people who don’t understand it for being slow, but the makeup of a soccer match is two 45-minutes halves with a 15-minute halftime in between. The timer never stops, and time during which the teams aren’t actively playing is added on to the end of the halves. Even if both halves in a soccer match go five minutes (I’ve very rarely seen them go beyond four), you’re still talking about an entire soccer match played just shy of two hours.
In the meantime, those who love baseball are campaigning against positive progress in spite of all common sense and logic. Baseball today is more and more a spoiled picnic; fans walk into the park, eat their hot dogs, drink their pops, and chat with each other from the second to the sixth inning, when they leave. Trying to watch or listen to an entire game by radio or TV is nearly impossible. Somehow, though, baseball fans have come to the conclusion that this is for the betterment of the game, and that argument gets repeated ad nauseam whenever fans are confronted with it. Actually, that’s not even an argument – it’s an effort at self-reassurance.
The actual arguments against speeding up baseball start with the players whining about how it would throw off their rituals. But you know what? Screw them. With the ridiculous money they make for basically sitting most of the afternoon, they can afford to learn to change their approach. And after that, the arguments against new rules to speed up baseball are based on one single element: Tradition. And you know what? Screw that too. If your entire argument – be it for baseball or anything else – is based entirely within tradition, you’ve conceded. Tradition is not a good reason to keep doing anything the wrong way.
I have one problem with the new rules and one problem alone: They don’t go far enough. Do you really think small fines are going to be deterrents to multimillionaire players who hate the new rules? Forget the fines – the rules should have come with in-game penalties.
Beyond that, though, the change is needed. Bring on the timer.