Wednesday, February 11, 2015

"Messing With The Prototype"

Spring Training is rapidly approaching, and after that, the baseball season itself.


During the offseason, aside from inflating players' salaries to stratospheric levels, baseball has also been experimenting with efforts at speeding up the game in hopes of making it more popular, especially among the advertisingly desirable younger demographic, which prefers its entertainment at warp speed.

The average age of a baseball enthusiast is fifty-three.  This is a problem two ways: One, advertisers overwhelmingly prefer a younger audience. And two, the current enthusiasts will in the not too distant future be deceased.  No advertisers except funeral homes and professional embalmers want them. (I have no idea why I needed "professional."  Probably for rhythm.)

Employing the Arizona Instructional League as a Guinea Pig, baseball has accepted the mandate of shortening the game via innovative adjustments, such as, among other proposals,

- Requiring  batters, once entering it, to remain inside the batter's box, rather than to stepping outside between pitches to adjust their batting gloves and their protective cups.

- Putting the pitchers on a clock so as to reduce the delay between pitches.


- Eliminating the four "ceremonial" pitches when "Intentionally Walking" a batter and instead simply signaling "We are doing that" and allowing the batter to trot, unpitched to, down to first base.

By making such alterations, it has been predicted, a baseball game can be speeded up by fifteen up to minutes.

We now pause for a joke I have related before, and that you may possibly already know.

A company's revamping a failing brand of dog food - new recipe, new label, new ad campaign.  The product continues to fail. The company wonders why that is.  After many unpersuasive attempts at an explanation, the definitive answer finally comes to light:

The dogs don't like it.

Same thing here.

If don't like baseball, you don't like baseball.  And no alterations will change that.

"But we are making a three-hour ballgame fifteen minutes shorter.  Why wouldn't they like it?"

"The other two hours and forty-five minutes."

It's not the duration; it's the game.

Baseball is inherently and, for some of us, deliciously slow.

Let us first understand that  "slow" is not necessarily a bad thing.  "Slow", in fact, can be medicinally therapeutic.  I am currently paying substantial money to be here at this spa.  I can feel my life slowing down with every passing day, suffused in the beneficial advantages thereof.

You don't have to go to a spa.  You can enjoy that same feeling at a ball game.  And get a hotdog to boot.  They don't allow hotdogs at the spa.

I am hardly a purist when it comes to fundamental alterations.  Last season, they introduced "Instant Replay" and no collisions at home plate.  I approve of those changes.  Why?  Because I'm in favor of getting the calls right, and of no collisions at home plate.  There is another game for that.  It's called football.

Some alterations are demonstrably beneficial.  But none of them involve speeding up the game.  "Instant Replay" actually extends the game.  But it's better.  Unless you miss irate managers kicking dirt onto the umpire's pants.  The umpire's dry cleaners might miss that.  I don't.

For me, "speeding up the game" is "lose-lose."  It will win over no new followers.  And it antagonizes the fans who are currently watching.  Plus, it obliterates the "untouched by time" purity of the game.  So you can add another "lose", making it "lose-lose-lose."

What I am saying about a game so exquisitely structured that a throw from shortstop can still nip the game's speediest runner at first base is...

Don't mess with it.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

I have a similar rant about tennis. One of the interesting points Jose Canseco makes in his JUICeD account of drug-taking is that baseball owners' interest in increasing "excitement" encouraged steroid use (the owners also tuned the parks to make home runs more likely).

But I think actually the reason baseball fans are aging is that their fandom dates to when a local team genuinely was a local team with players they'd seen growing up. There was a local loyalty in the game that I can't imagine has survived all the player trading and recruitment that goes on now. There's a similar thing in British football (soccer), which I also do not waatch.


Jake Brown said...

In the last 3 World Series, only 1 game was completed in less than 3 hours (2:52). Going back to my personal remembrance of my exposure to the WS, the first 3 I saw on TV, only 2 games took more than 3 hours; of the other 17 games, none was even close to 3 hours. Of course I understand that the domination and rule of television has extended the "time." But, I also know there are already rules in place to speed up the game, but they aren't enforced. Why do I love to watch Mark Buerhle pitch? Cuz he's good and he doesn't mess around between pitches. He gets the ball, gets his sign and pitches. If I'm on Mark's team, I like that. And as a fan, I love it. As a Dodger fan, you probably remember SF relief pitcher, Y. Petit? When he's on the mound, with a runner on base, he slows the game down so much I refuse to watch. I change the channel and check back later. If the umpire would enforce the rules, Petit would have to pitch instead of standing on the mound and stare at the catcher. The same goes for the batters who insist of getting out of the batter's box between pitches and adjust all their clothing. Between every pitch. The umpire can get them back in the box, but they don't. Why?

I was a player, from age 9 through high school, and good enough player to gain some notice from scouts. Not enough, but some. I played in the Navy (was the catcher on the Navy team that beat Army in the first battle of the Mekong Delta). I played slow-pitch and fast-pitch till I was 40 then joined the local Senior Baseball League - back to real baseball. I played thru age 48 and only cancer stopped me at 49. I like the fact that there is no clock in baseball, but I do not like the excessive stalling.

You notice that at the end of the season, especially the last game, teams that are out of the race or have already clinched a post-season berth, play that final game in 2 hours or less? I'm not saying that all games should be like that, but rarely should any take more than 3 hours; and when NY plays Boston, count on 4 hours.

It's true as Wendy notes, that many of the newer stadiums were built for the hitters. But not all. Remember when Detroit's new park opened, it was so big that their announcers called it Comerica National Park. Where I live, Seattle, they finally moved the fences in a bit after watching so many of their potential HR hitters leave cuz their long drives would die at the track. SF is another huge park - tough to hit it out of that park w/out the clear or the cream.

Finally, free agency has been around so long that most fans understand and tolerate their heroes moving on when the opportunity ari$e$. Rarely will we see another player with the loyalty of Jeter, Kirby Puckett or Edgar Martinez.

Still Jake said...

PS: I'll be heading to AZ in March, maybe my final spring training, but I doubt they'll let me play. And tomorrow, the college baseball season begins. It's always fun to watch the college kids play; there's almost always something new to see at a college game. It's cheap and it's fun, and surprisingly, it's even going to be in the 60s in Seattle this weekend, instead of 40 (or less), which is lucky for the local team since they are inexplicably opening at home (instead of in CA). Play ball!