Monday, February 5, 2018

International Editor: Let's Play At A 154-Game "Pace"

by Mark Lawrence, International Editor

Sydney, Australia—Here we are, a few scant weeks from the happiest time of the year and Commissioner Rob tosses out another of these addlepated pace-of-play boondoggles like it’s the ceremonial first pitch at the Isotope’s Opening Day.   

Rob seems to think that putting a man on second – by magic, it seems – in extra innings is a pretty dern good idea.   I’m at odds with that opinion and I’m reasonably certain that a majority of fans are, too.   When it comes to forming an opinion, I’m a lot like USAF General Buck Turgidson – I don’t like to pass judgment until all the facts are in.  So, perhaps naively, I went to my source for baseball news, and found a piece by the well-credentialed Anthony Castrovince describing bold moves, pitching stratagems and changes to the strike zone – wait a minute, what??!  That’s right, tucked away in the article is a fleeting reference to the proposal that the bottom of the strike zone be raised from the hollow behind the knee to the top of the kneecap.  Someone with far more baseball savvy than me will have to explain what benefit will derive from slightly shrinking the strike zone, because I don’t get it. 

This Pace-of-Play (PoP) nonsense has been a burr under my blanket ever since it was first bruited about.  Pitch clocks.  Timed mound visits.  No-pitch intentional walks.  Free base runners, for heaven’s sake!  How can anyone who has even a passing interest in baseball believe that any of these shenanigans are beneficial to the game?  According to the article, that venerable old stager Joe Torre apparently asserts that there’s no harm in trying.   

"Let's see what it looks like," Torre said. "It's not fun to watch when you go through your whole pitching staff and wind up bringing a utility infielder in to pitch. As much as it's nice to talk about being at an 18-inning game, it takes time."  

Yeah, bringing in that hapless infielder to take the mound in the eighteenth – wow, how many times did we have to endure that in the past couple seasons?  This preoccupation with game times is very worrying – according to Castrovince: “Time has been a subject of great discourse in the game of late, with the average time of a game creeping back up over the three-hour mark in 2016 after the pace-of-play initiatives had helped bring it down to two hours, 56 minutes during the 2015 season. (Emphasis mine).

C’mon Rob, let’s get serious.  If all this messing with the National Pastime has saved an average of four lousy minutes of game time, aren’t you guys fooling yourselves just the teensiest bit?  Because your persistence with this wild idea is starting to make you look like you can’t bear being in the stands for any longer than you possibly need to be.  And that’s not a good look for the Commissioner of Baseball, now is it? 

Perhaps someone needs to explain to me and the fans just why pace of play seems to matter so much to those who own the corporate boxes.  In all my happy visits to America’s Ballparks, never did I hear any fan complaints about game time.  So, what started it all?  What concerns might the Commissioner care to share with us to convince us of the PoP initiative’s value to the game?  Again, from the Castrovince piece:

"Pace of play is an issue that 'we' need to be focused on…the 'we' there is players, owners, umpires - everyone who is invested in this game. I don't think there's a magic bullet that is going to come one year to be the solution to pace of play. It's going to be an ongoing effort to make sure our game moves along in a way that is most attractive to our fans."  

Sorry, Rob, but I’m not getting it.  What are you actually driving at here?  Is it just pace-of-play for the sake of pace-of-play?  Or is there a hidden agenda here somewhere?  Some people assert that these pesky extra innings are a curse on the game, destroying young arms, ruining bullpens and so on and so forth and blah, blah, blah.  Torre’s remarks would seem to indicate that those 18 innings games with the utility infielder on the mound happen every other day.  Of course, they don’t, they’re a rarity and - for this writer at least – one of those occasional curiosities that help make the game so entertaining.

I’m getting the impression that one of MLB’s PoP selling points is a desire to help the players themselves - after all, it’s a long enough grind as it is, so let’s not make them trudge through all those extra innings games if we can help it.  We have a particularly zesty word for that sort of nonsense down here in Australia – but as I’m here in The Nation, I’ll just call it dissembling.  In any case, the recent CBA saw an additional four off-days inserted into the schedule, designed to take a little off those rough edges for the players – a little more power to ‘em.

If Commissioner Manfred and his PoP henchmen are honestly, really and truly concerned about the effect of that long, tough schedule on the players, then here’s a thought no more heretical than pitch clocks or no-pitch walks or any of that other phoney baloney – let’s roll the schedule back to 1960 and play 154 games.  That’d take the pressure of a bit now, wouldn’t it?