Baseball is no longer the National Pastime. Football is. Although if you rebranded the NFL the National Almost Certain To Get Brain Damage League, you might see a downtick in its popularity. Let us hope.
The primary criticism of baseball is that it’s slow. Which, to me, is a mislabeling of the difficulty. (Most) football games take longer to play than (most) baseball games and nobody complains about their length. What its critics mean when they assert that baseball is slow is that there is not enough action to support the length of time it takes not to have any.
“‘Ball one.’ The catcher returns the ball to the pitcher. The pitcher turns his back to the plate gazing aimlessly into the distance. He now returns to the rubber, leans in intently to get the sign. The catcher flashes the sign, the pitcher dismissively shakes his head ‘No’. The catcher flashes another sign. The pitcher shakes that one off as well. The catcher now flashes a third sign. The pitcher nodding in agreement, rocks into his windup, but instead, throws the ball to first, holding the baserunner close to the bag. The first baseman throws it back to the pitcher who rubs up the baseball and again looks into the catcher for the sign. There’s the windup… and the pitch…. ‘Ball two’.”
It took a long time to write that, though likely not as long as it would have taken to actually play that exciting interlude out.
And to the impartial observer, nothing has happened. At least physically. Mentally, there was quite a lot going on – intricate “head games” – between the pitcher and the catcher, between the pitcher and the batter, between the pitcher and the runner on first, between the pitcher and himself, structuring a pitching sequence, struggling for composure, searching for a comfortable rhythm.
Nothing bone-crunching. Nothing where parents need to cover their children’s eyes. Nothing where vehicles roll onto the field and cart someone headed for surgery away.
As a result, baseball is called slow.
Like watching a freeway and there’s no accidents.
To be more popular, it would appear the game needs more visible elements of excitement.
The thing is…
Over recent years, baseball has engaged in deliberate policies taking things demonstrably in the opposite direction.
Albeit for good reason.
Allow us to be non-judgmental for a moment. (For me, at least, a welcome relief.) Considering only the “Excitement Factor” in baseball…
Three years after a devastating, though shamefully exciting, home plate collision that abruptly ended San Francisco Giants All-Star catcher Buster Posey’s season, a new rule was initiated to prevent such terrible injuries from taking place in the future.
Along the same lines, due to an incident in last year’s playoffs…
After the Dodgers’ Chase Utley’s attempt to break up a “double play” by “taking out” Mets’ infielder Ruben Tejada, breaking Tejada’s leg in the process, a new rule was initiated making Utley’s previously acceptable slide – and one of the more eye-catching elements of the game – no longer permissible.
In another direction…
The often uproarious spectacle of watching a manager and an umpire arguing over a call has been virtually eliminated by the advent of the “Instant Replay” review which now determines whether the umpire’s decision on the field will stand or be overturned without challenge by an auxiliary umpire sitting in the “Replay Command Center” in New York.
(Note: Over many decades of watching baseball, I never once saw an umpire change his call after an irate manager came out of the dugout to dispute it. UMPIRE: “You know what? Despite the fact that you have stabbed your finger repeatedly into my chest, spit in my face and kicked dirt onto my shoes, I am persuaded by your argument and I am reversing my call in your direction.” Not once did that ever happen.)
The thing is… again…
It’s better. By which I mean these changes.
You want players to be protected from unnecessary injury. And you want the umpires’ misjudgments to be reversed. The thing is… a third time…
As the great Joni Mitchell wrote – I believe in response to changes in baseball regulations…
“Something’s lost and something’s gained.”
It’s funny, how that works. In the name of improving safety and accuracy, a game many complain is insufficiently exciting has eliminated three traditional opportunities for excitement.
What are you gonna do?
At this point, I intended to embed three YouTube videos relevant to the matter at hand onto this post. Two problems with that intention: One, I do not know how to embed three YouTube videos onto one post. And two, two of the videos are disturbingly painful to watch. The third, merely disrespectful of authority.
So I am showing the third one. If you enjoy serious leg injuries you can find the others for yourself.
Here’s something you will (let’s qualify it with an “almost”) never see again in baseball.
Oh well. At least we still got the old ones.