CALGARY, Alta. Feb. 14, 2017/ Troy Media/ – Long before there was the endless election in the United States, there was extra-innings baseball. A never-ending extension of Major League Baseball games, extra innings can last as long as a bad date or end as quickly as a Vegas wedding. In a game that has no clock to run out, this can be a recipe for a long day’s journey into night.
It ruins TV schedules, upsets travel plans and leaves fans in the stadium wondering, “Should we go after this half inning or just drink strychnine?”
Extra innings is just one of the eccentricities of baseball that the new commissioner of Major League Baseball, Rob Manfred, wants to either refine or do away with. In a world as regulated as Tom Hanks’ FedEx guy in Castaway, the 19th-century features of baseball are both a curse and a blessing. It starts with the now-acceptable notion of a four-hour game.
Adding video replay has not helped shorten things either. So, among the innovations Manfred is suggesting to get back to the two-hour, 20-minute games of yore is to start extra innings with a runner on second base. In short, games will be made shorter by stacking the deck against pitchers. As both teams would have their at-bats in extra innings this would be fair. And for fans trying to get to bed at the end of a long day this would also be fair.
There would be a few grumps among the traditionalists, but the teams, fans and especially broadcast execs would probably cope with this the same way the NHL has coped with the shootout. (Canadians are partial to this man-on-second format because they used it once to defeat the heavily favoured U.S. The sight of legendary Expos star Larry Walker waving home the winning run is a treasure for Canadian ball fans.)
Anything to expedite a conclusion is probably a good thing. So is the idea of making sense of the intentional walk. For those who’ve been in a sensory deprivation tank, the intentional walk is where the pitcher throws four exaggerated pitches that stay far from the strike zone – the idea being to intentionally walk the batter for strategic purposes.
In theory, this works fine. In reality, it’s like a Little League game has broken out, with the pitcher straining to find the strike zone while his teammates shift from foot to foot in boredom. As a TV spectacle, it gets a Nobel Prize for time-wasting.
Manfred agrees and wants pitchers to be able to declare their intention to walk the batter without tossing the ball. In this, Manfred is a genius.
He also wants to raise the strike zone from a place just below the mole on the batter’s knee to a place just above the scar on said batter’s knee. Manfred’s thinking here is that there’s far too much watching of pitches and not enough swinging at them. Today’s batters look like nerd quality-control inspectors, allowing many pitches to pass by before plucking one to put in play.
This could help shorten games. But why not just fast-forward to the inevitable and adopt the virtual strike zone employed now in TV? Traditionalists hate this. We mentioned this to our pal Gregg Zaun and he was still berating our opinion 20 minutes later. He said that stadiums shake and that the zone moves.
It is imperfect but far less perfect than a middle-aged man who’s been taking screaming foul tips off his noggin eye-balling pitches that come out of the shade, a blazing sun or through rain. If it’s unfair, it’s unfair for both teams. Plus, with TV paying so much of the freight, the visual of the strike zone incorporates tech in a way we all can see. If it’s a union thing, let the home plate umpire stay where he is to do Leslie Nielsen impersonations as entertainment between innings.
If I might help Mr. Manfred, how about a couple of other time-wasters? Why do we need relief pitchers getting eight pitches on the mound when he comes into the game? Isn’t that what the mound in the bullpen is for? Getting ready? NHL goalies don’t get warmup shots when they come into games. NFL quarterbacks don’t get to heave a few corner patterns when they enter a game. NBA players don’t get a session at the free-throw line.
While we’re at it, how about limiting pitching staffs to 11 pitchers so we don’t get managers juggling their bullpen every second batter in a key situation? Or putting advertising on jerseys so we can drop 30 seconds from every between-innings break? Or limiting throws to first base? Or requiring that anthem singers sing the darned anthems the way they were written and not as an audition for The Voice?
Just trying to be helpful, Mr Manfred. Call if you need elaboration.
Bruce Dowbiggin is the host of the podcast The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin on anticanetwork.com. He’s also a regular contributor three-times-a-week to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. His website is Not The Public Broadcaster.
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