By Ted Gay – @TedG63
There is nothing that instantly creates unbearable tension like baseball. It is the moments between the pitches, when the batter is waiting at the plate, the runners slowly leadoff base, and the pitcher is holding the ball. The next delivery could lead to a game-changing hit, a rally-killing out, or a foul ball resetting the scene. A fan watches, praying, unable to breathe. Slowly, the pitcher winds up, turns, his body thrusts forward, and the pitch is delivered.
Part of the suspense is not knowing when the pitch will be delivered. The hurler could hold the ball forever, the game stretching through eternity. There are no clocks, just one man, holding the ball, the fate of millions of fans resting solely on his decision.
Now, imagine this scenario with a clock. Time, not man, controls the action. Knowing when the pitch will be delivered lessens the tension. Baseball is a timeless sport. Why are people suggesting we introduce a timer?
The powers that be insist the game needs to be faster. To accomplish this, they nitpick at solutions like limiting mound visits to save precious seconds. Baseball, being the most human of sports, has developed several self-corrections. Catchers, or coaches, who waste time with excessive mound visits, are less likely to get a call on the corner. The same for batters who continue to step out. Taking the power to punish those who waste time from the umpire hinders their control of the game. Also limiting mound visits will have the opposite effect. Pitchers in need of a few words from a coach or catcher are more likely to extend innings by having meltdowns. Speeding up relief appearances by using bullpen carts is silly. Imagine “Welcome to the Jungle” blasting through the speakers at Fenway Park, the bullpen gate opening and, instead of Craig Kimbrel charging to the mound, a golf cart with a Red Sox cap on top slowly drives the pitcher to the diamond-like it is transporting Donald Trump to the green after he took three mulligans on the fairway.
The biggest cause of downtime during baseball is commercials. The commissioner’s office has limited ad breaks to two minutes. A nice start but it is time to let the umpires be in control over when play stats and not the networks. Television should be given one minute of full commercials and another one and a half of advertisements with a box showing live play. If you want to see the entire game go to Fenway, but I wish you luck because every time I go there is a guy from Billerica in front of me who keeps standing and waving because he thinks he knows a guy sitting 20 sections over and I miss half the damn game.
With cords being cut it is not inconceivable, in the coming years, for baseball to leave networks and go to apps like Netflix making the broadcasts commercial free and greatly cutting down on the time of play. Until then baseball men, not ad men, should be in charge of game length.
Changes to speed up the game are being made for one reason: Money. Owners want attendance and viewers to bring in cash. But baseball is a symphony. You can’t remove a note without the entire piece collapsing. If the sport continues to change rules to bring in new viewers, it will push out older fans. Maybe, in our new society, baseball cannot be sustained as the money-making enterprise it has in the past. There will be fewer fans and less money.
And that will be fine. When I grew up baseball players did not have nine-figure contracts, stadiums were not sold out, every game was not broadcast, but the game was as pure as it had been when it sprung from the wreckage of the Civil War to grow and prosper along with America. I would rather sit at Fenway Park for four hours to watch a nine-inning game amongst 15,000 people then be there for two and a half hours surrounded by 35,000 people with a pitch clock watching a truncated, unrecognizable form of the game.
If what you are watching is beautiful, exciting, filled with tension, and takes you away from your problems for a few hours then there is no reason to change it. Get yourself another Sam Adams, sit in the sun and enjoy.