There is grumbling among my aged baseball friends. Never mind the economy, changing social standards, unsettling politics or the outrageous price of prunes these days. Septuagenarians are in a lather about proposed changes to the ancient and accepted rules of baseball.
Spurred on by cruel sportswriters who like to get people needlessly riled up, they are hearing that Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred is considering changes to make the game more entertaining.
We know why the writers are all for speed. While we leisurely watch the baseball world go by on gentle summer nights, they are answering calls from an even more annoying group of people called editors who want their stories no more than 38.5 seconds after the game ends.
So they are inciting a riot with radicalism in the name of speed while giving short-shrift to the benign open-mindedness of the commish.
The key word is “considering.”
Manfred says he is “thinking” about something and it comes out sounding like mandates from on high. Meanwhile, we old folks run to our McDonald’s coffee gatherings with hair on fire and arms waving over our heads. So cute at that age.
After it was all over, Manfred offered a weak list of real changes like giving managers no more than 30 seconds to demand a challenge and telling the New York replay crew they have a “guideline” for reaching conclusions in no more than two minutes. Need more time? Well, it’s only a guideline.
Oh yeah, and they took all the thrills out of intentional walks by allowing managers to send the batter to first with a mere gesture. That could reduce wild pitches by two, maybe three a year and deprive you of another potty break opportunity. Prostates do not age gracefully.
Manfred should look to history if he really wants to shake things up.
How about Bill Veeck’s idea from his old minor-league days in Milwaukee. He delighted his Brewer fans in the 40s by erecting a net in left field, complete with pulleys. Brewers up: nets down. Visitors up: nets to full height.
Or how about the genius of Charlie O. Finley. In addition to adopting a donkey mascot and flabbergasting his contemptuous contemporaries by winning three consecutive titles, he proposed using colored baseball. He suggested orange or green. This idea was far too radical for the Major Leagues but fine for softball to this day. God forbid that the Boys of Summer adopt an idea the women and girls like.
Go ahead, commish. Float one of these ideas and watch the writers sink into despair.
And why stop there?
As children playing on blacktop in Wisconsin, my buddies and I knew how to keep a game going.
Snow? Push it aside.
Only six players? Make an opponent play catcher and do without a second baseman and right fielder. Batters would be required to “call their field”, which meant most of us were aiming for left field. Hit it to right and we would be out.
Only five players? We would employ “pitcher’s hand out.” The shortstop would gather up the ball and throw it to the pitcher. Beat the batter, get the out.
How could we watch first and the pitcher at the same time? That was a frequent discussion topic.
Which gets us to the umpires, sort of.
I am about to show my old man, conservative side.
We need fewer new rules and more assertive umpires.
We already have rules about having batters stay in the box. There are rules about how soon a pitcher must hurl to the plate. They are rarely enforced.
Why are they ignored? I can only imagine the umpires consider it a “no-win” situation. These are the same folks who insisted on banning controversial replays on the scoreboard for fear of ugly fan riots. Replay changed that a bit, if not entirely.
I suspect the real problem is that umps don’t want to tell multimillionaires to hurry. It would tend to inspire some uncivil conversation and no real benefit to the lifestyle of the umps. Would you like to be the guy to tell “Cowboy” Joe West that his duties now include telling Brian Harper to “get in there and hit”?
No, this would not be an easy fix – telling umpires to do their job. It might even require throwing them a few more bucks and rewriting to clarify rules. Make it clear that if a pitcher holds the ball too long, the ump adds a ball to the count. If the batter isn’t in the box on time, add a strike. If the players give the ump too much grief allow the authorities to eject bitching players the way they can on disputed balls and strikes.
And if the players don’t like being told to get their mind games, belt tugging and strap re-attaching done in a timely manner, tell them to seek out some old men sitting at McDonald’s on any given morning and ask their opinion. It would be a spirited debate.