Why David Ortiz's rant against new pace-of-play rules is off-target

·MLB columnist

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Red Sox star David Ortiz ripped baseball’s new pace-of-play provisions Wednesday, which was not altogether surprising, considering MLB emphasizing the edict that requires hitters to keep one foot in the batter’s box might as well be called the David Ortiz Rule. He is the prince of procrastination, a malingerer worthy of comparison to Mike Hargrove and Nomar Garciaparra, the patron saints of between-pitch futzing around.

Every time he removes himself from the 24-square-foot box this season, Ortiz risks a maximum fine of $500. “Well,” he said, “I might run out of money.” Going into this season, he has made more than $125 million in his career.

David Ortiz likes taking his sweet time at the plate. (AP)
David Ortiz likes taking his sweet time at the plate. (AP)

Bankruptcy threats aside, Ortiz’s condemnation of the rules resonated for two reasons. The first was obvious: More and more players are speaking out against baseball’s efforts to hasten pace, and Ortiz’s voice carries an immense amount of weight among fellow players and fans still trying to judge whether the decrees will hold. And the second was more obvious: His explanations as to why he should be able to loaf around are so full of illogic and red herrings they collapse in on the weight of their own absurdity.

Though it seemed Ortiz’s ruminations about umpires enforcing the existing rule that hitters not leave the box during an at-bat would end with a standard Papi bon mot – “I call that bull[expletive],” he said – that was merely the appetizer for a five-course meal of fallacy.

“They don’t understand that when you come out of the box, you’re thinking about what the guy’s trying to do,” Ortiz said. “This is not like you go to the plate with an empty mind. When you see guys coming out of the box, we’re not doing it just for doing it. Our mind is speeding up. I saw one pitch. When I come out, I’m thinking, ‘What’s this guy going to try to do to me next?’ I’m not walking around just because there’s cameras all over the place and I want my buddies back home to see me.”

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He continued: “Just tell them to throw the ball. Hey, look. This game has been going on for over 100 years, and the nature of the game – I don’t care who you are, you’re not going to change. That is our nature. Pitch comes through, you come out of the box, you go back in it. But you throw a pitch and stay there, and the pitcher’s going to go right back at it? I don’t know about that.”

Not to age 30 years and sit in a rocking chair on the porch, but this is not the nature of the game. Actually, it is the complete antithesis of the nature of the game. The vast majority of hitters for, oh, the first 125 years of the game or so managed just fine without excusing themselves from the box to go on a mental walkabout that consists of determining which of the four pitches a pitcher might throw and where he’ll try to locate it. If Ortiz wants to act like he’s solving the Riemann hypothesis, that is all well and good. Let’s at least tell the truth: General languidness is a relatively new phenomenon, something popularized amid the offensive boom in the 1990s. Now baseball lacks the runs but still operates on a sundial. Ortiz’s rationale is nothing more than spin, a chance to act aggrieved, to truly embody the old man shouting that he doesn’t want something new.

Which, when you’ve conditioned yourself a certain way, is understandable. Of all the batter’s-box shirkers, Ortiz is far and away the most entertaining of the bunch. Ortiz in between pitches is like a stage actor at his overactingest, all drama and head-shaking and bad posture and steps that make the tortoise look like the hare.

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Look at this. It’s 3 minutes, 18 seconds of absolute glory. Anyone who wants to buy Ortiz’s line about what he’s doing in between pitches ought watch it. Immediately after a pitch crosses the plate, Ortiz retreats, almost reflexively, and to do absolutely nothing he couldn’t do in the box. Following the first pitch, he thwapped his bat against his spikes. The second pitch yielded to spike tapping and some classic Papi hand clapping. The third pitch was called a strike, and this angered Ortiz. He turned around, talked with the umpire and started pacing in a long, slow circle. From beef back into the box took 23 seconds. The pitcher waited another nine seconds to throw. After the next pitch, Ortiz left the box and walked around for 14 seconds. Time is a flat circle in Papi’s baseball.

Ortiz addresses pace of play Wednesday in Fort Myers, Fla. (AP)
Ortiz addresses pace of play Wednesday in Fort Myers, Fla. (AP)

There was more. He complained no one asked him about the new emphasis on the batter’s box rule, even though the union to which he belongs agreed to the changes. He bellyached that all the changes affect hitters … which was funny because David Price made a far better case that rule changes actually affect pitchers more than hitters. Though Ortiz’s past point about replay slowing down pace was fair, the benefit it brings to baseball far outweighs its detriment writ large regarding pace of game.

Ortiz’s nature walks, on the other hand, serve only himself and what he believes he needs. And there’s a chance he does, that he’s so routinized any break from it would have a deleterious psychosomatic effect. But it’s just as easy to envision Ortiz learning a new routine, adjusting and whacking home runs like he does in such glorious fashion.

The fines are piddling enough that Ortiz said: “I’m not going to change my game. I don’t care what they say.” And that’s his prerogative. He doesn’t have to abide by the rules or comply with the commissioner. Raging against the machine is great – when it’s warranted.

Here, it isn’t. Ortiz said: “It don’t matter what they do. The game is not going to speed up.” That’s demonstrably, provably false. All it takes is a look at one David Ortiz at-bat. He’s not the slowest – that would be his new teammate Hanley Ramirez – but at 25.2 seconds between pitches, he’s in the conversation. Shaving even two seconds between every pitch in a game shortens it by 10 minutes, and that should be the floor for baseball’s goals.

Because we all know where this is going. Someone from the Red Sox or MLB is going to ask David Ortiz to conform, and he will. That’s how things like this work. Change is hard. People resist. Eventually they relent. And the change, especially one implemented for the right reasons, becomes part of the game like everything else.

In the end, it’ll be best for him. Would hate to see the prince turn into a pauper.

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