Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred is up in arms over the speed of his game. The commish wants to move things along, spur action, eliminate delays, make silent moments loud with the cheering of sellout crowds. The MLB players union has been reluctant to adopt most of the changes — a clock for pitchers, to name one — so Manfred finds himself grinding his teeth, awaiting the authority to unilaterally impose new rules for the 2018 season. (The two parties managed to agree on pitchless intentional walks. Starting this season, a batter can be sent to first base merely with a signal from the opposing manager. No more staring at four wide ones. Former Cardinal and Met Keith Hernandez would at times lean on his bat as though it were a cane during an intentional walk. Other than losing the chance for such an image, this is a good modification.)
While we start processing the idea of a clock factoring in a game long known as timeless, here are a few creative suggestions for making baseball a quicker experience, one the modern attention span might better fancy.
• Three balls for a walk and two strikes, you’re out! If intentional walks are so mind-numbing, why are we drawn to five- or six-pitch at-bats? Step into the box and be ready to swing. And no third chances if you can’t handle a pitch in the strike zone. If reality television has taught us anything, it’s that drama is tight, abrupt, and in your face. (Foul balls will no longer keep a batter alive, either. Put the ball in play — no more than two swings — or take a seat.)
• Seventy-foot bases. We want more offense, more scoring, right? Let’s get more hitters on base. And around those bases quicker. For safety’s sake, we can’t move the pitcher’s mound closer to home plate, so it will now sit virtually on top of second base. So be it. About the only way we’ll be bothered with double plays will be grounders back to the pitcher. The ol’ 1-3 DP.
• Two-out innings for teams with a lead. Why does a team leading on the scoreboard get three outs when it bats, just like the team trying to make a comeback? We want excitement, tight scores, and yes, comebacks. A team protecting its lead better hit early (in an inning) and often. And let’s see if a team ever bunts with a lead. Won’t happen. That’s sissy stuff.
• One-pitch warm-ups for relief pitchers. That flame-throwing righty has been tossing in the bullpen for 15 minutes. Upon entering the game, he needs to “get familiar” with the mound? This isn’t a first date. One pitch to your catcher, and game on.
• No more mound visits . . . ever. We have technology that will allow pitchers to wear an earpiece, one connected remotely to his catcher and the pitching coach. Let those two get in the hurler’s head (literally) all they want: strategize, energize, discuss appropriate wedding gifts, whatever. But no man will ever again walk to a pitcher’s mound merely to have a conversation.
• Seventh-inning wave. Stretching? What sport is so boring it requires its fans to stretch before the game is over? No more “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Moving forward, ballparks will play the Surfaris’ “Wipe Out” after the top of the seventh inning and fans will do the wave. Then back to baseball, hopefully a two-out inning for the home team.
More than three hours is required to complete an NFL game and there are about 25 minutes of what can be called action on the field (including one-yard runs and incomplete passes). An NBA game takes 150 minutes to play but look at the clock: 12 minutes times four quarters (plus halftime) equals 48 minutes. By my count, that’s more than 100 minutes of waiting for the next dribble, shot, or pass.
Never mind those sports, though. Baseball season is almost here. And it’s been here since long before horseless carriages became the rage. It’s about time we fix it.