We come here not to bury legendary sportswriter Frank Deford — even though he looks more and more like Grandpa Munster every day — but instead to bury his notion that Major League Baseball should shrink home plate from 17 inches wide to 14 inches because there are too many strikeouts.
Over at NPR, Deford notes that strikeout totals continue to rise because pitchers are faster, umpires call more strikes than ever and batters are no longer as embarrassed to whiff — which they do more often because there are limits as to how fast a human being can swing a bat.
Even if all of that were true (and some of it is), Deford is making some assumptions, most notably: There's something "wrong" with baseball and "boring" strikeouts are what ails it. Deford does make some good points about how baseball, and other sports, have made radical changes to the playing field before: The location of goal posts in football; the size of the key in basketball; the height of the mound in baseball. Major league sports have tinkered and will again. But shrinking home plate will have some unintended consequences, and none of them would make Deford happy.
Let's just take the highest-ranked comment by reader Bob Mrozinski:
A basic lack of understanding of the game of baseball must be what drew you to this conclusion. A smaller plate would lead to more swings? Wrong.
A 14" plate would lead to more pitches, more walks, longer innings, more pitching changes, inflated OBP's, ERA's and everything related to offensive statistics. If you want TV to show more between pitch shots of fans biting their nails, batters scratching themselves or readjusting their gloves, players in the dugout spitting seeds, etc. then you have a clear winner.
The beauty of the battle between pitcher and batter escape you. There's nothing anyone can do about that. Fortunately, even the corporate suits running baseball aren't dumb enough to want to see a ball in play on every pitch. That would be as bad as deciding a hockey game with a shootout. Oh, wait....
Bob is a little harsh on Deford; he probably understands the game and appreciates the pitcher-batter confrontation. He's simply trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist. No more wacky experiments, Grandpa Munster!
The plate has been this way for 100 years. If baseball is to tweak, it ought to try it elsewhere.
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