The games are longer. At times, more tedious. That’s decided. There are a dozen reasons why, at least as many well-meaning remedies and one overwhelming sense that if we don’t pick the right reason and the right remedy – right now – we might lose the game and never get it back.
It is, perhaps, Rob Manfred’s first crisis. That, and the dearth of offense, a conversation he himself plied with shots of defensive shifts before sobering with a cold shower of backpedaling.
If nothing else, we have for the moment skittered past steroids as the conversation topic most likely to cause a self-inflicted, pen-to-the-neck episode.
The two – length of games and monotony in them – have joined up, one triggering the other, unless it’s vice-versa. Just the other day Manfred said the game should conduct itself “in tune with the way we live our lives,” which is either a keen observation or a threat. I mean, has he seen the way we live our lives recently? Do we really want the game to run alongside that mess? Or, worse, into a little light blue rectangle that constantly begs, “What’s happening?”
Maybe nothing’s happening. Maybe that’s OK.
But in considering solutions to so many endless baseball games in which not enough happens, solutions that apparently must be more sophisticated than, “Hey you, throw the ball. And you, get in the box,” I began to consider how I viewed the game back when it wasn’t a job. Granted, that was a long time ago, when a nine-inning game was more likely to be a 2 1/2–hour experience, when you could take in a Sunday afternoon doubleheader in about the time the Yankees and Red Sox bang out a Sunday night quest for hardball enlightenment.
Remember when the games weren’t long enough? When you’d sit somewhere up in the cheapest seats at Shea Stadium (or wherever), be mortified to discover it was the seventh inning already, and privately hoped the visitors would tie it up, so there’d be more baseball, so you wouldn’t have to leave?
Then you grew up, got on with your life, found you had stuff – serious stuff – to do with your time, and for God’s sake do we really have to start matching up in the fifth inning? You know, I got stuff to do.
Twenty-or-so years ago, when it seemed the game had begun to dawdle, a reporter registered a mild complaint to Tommy Lasorda (for like the 12th time), and Lasorda said something along the lines of, “You know the only people who hate long games? Baseball writers. I’ve never heard a single fan say the games are too long.”
(You can tell that’s paraphrased because it’s suitable for this website.)
Anyway, in the same era, a different reporter – this one exasperated by the confluence of the late hour and his looming deadline – mentioned this issue with a different manager, who responded, “There’s two things in this world I don’t give [an expletive] about: your deadline and [boobs] on a bull.”
Which summed it all up nicely. I thought they were right. Nobody who means anything wants shorter baseball.
Of course, the games have become longer still, and so in the opposite direction of our attention spans, which means baseball on TV has started to resemble golf on TV; a program you can kind of watch while doing other – you know, important – stuff, like checking your phone.
Fans do complain now. The games sometimes do go on forever. They can end too late. And after three or four hours, the lasting impression may be the superb situational relief work and the clever implementation of shortstop-as-rover and the casual nursing of the walk-up song. When did a slow game get so damned slow? More, why?
On the other hand, the ballparks are pretty full, television is happy enough with the product to dump billions into it, the owners are making their money, and the game is – as far as we know – fairly clean. There are some great players on which to hang the game, and a lot of good ones.
Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t worry about the product, though. There isn’t enough scoring to suit some, and the games can drone on like your drunken Uncle Lou at Thanksgiving. So maybe it’s the shifts (it’s probably not the shifts), or the pitching changes (it certainly doesn’t help), along with the amazing amount of dawdling that takes place in and around the pitcher-batter relationship.
But, tell you what, before we go messing with things like where a shortstop can and can’t stand or what pitcher may or may not face which batter, let’s spend a season enforcing the most basic of events: Hey you, throw the ball. And you, get in the box.
Can’t we start there, see where it takes us?
I do respect a pitcher’s need to consider his options. His job is not to get little Rebecca home early on a school night. It’s to figure a way around Miguel Cabrera. Still, can’t we work all that out on the mound? You know, work fast, throw strikes, all that?
And the batter, must every pitch propel him toward reassessment of his life’s journey? It’s so difficult, what he does. Indeed, it’s what he does and for that moment it is who he is. Still, we’re talking an at-bat, not landing on an aircraft carrier. So, leave a foot in the box. Stay close. Be ready.
We’re not back at 2 ½-hour games, probably. But it helps. The game keeps moving. Let’s start there. Put a clock on them. Assess balls and strikes. Something. Nothing rash, because it’s not broken. Not yet. But let’s think small, put the pitcher on the mound, put the batter in the box and get on with it.
Because, you know, there’s two things in the world I don’t give a crap about: your batting gloves and boobs on a bull.
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