Friday, February 24, 2017


Let us all bow our heads for a moment in silent tribute to the latest casualty in baseball's absurd war against the timeless tradition of a timepiece-free sport --  the four-pitch intentional walk.

As has been widely reported, with 923 IBBs last season in 2,430 games, this rule change would have sliced an average of 1.5 pitches -- or about 35 seconds--  per game league wide.

Photo: Getty Images
That's one more small step for Commish Rob Manfred and his merry band of shorter-game-is-good scammers; one giant leap toward a game full of crazy shortcuts and nonsensical omissions leading to the end of the sport as we know it without a clock. 

Think that's unlikely?

You may have heard a new clock has been speeding up the time between the last out of each inning and the first batter in the box for the next one. Perhaps you noticed there's often already a ball and strike count on the hitter when MLB telecasts return from their commercial breaks? Or maybe you didn't notice because you're still in the bathroom; taking your usual length of time to do your business, but thought you just don't have the same velocity you used to when you finished and the game was already back.

You probably already know warm up pitches for starters and relievers have been drastically limited, and that visits to the mound by catchers and managers -- often used to allow a pitcher with a tired or sore arm to give it a brief respite  -- have been severely curtailed. 

And yet the mystery of all those shoulder and elbow injuries continues to confound this mastermind Commish who proposes putting a runner on second base in the tenth inning to shorten games; not grasping the fact that doing so for each team does virtually nothing to increase  the chances of a shorter game but greatly enhances the chances of a bunting festival -- a scenario sure to attract swarms of formerly disinterested potential fans to ballparks.

A pitch clock is already in use in the minors. Does anybody believe that isn't intended to be a shakedown ahead of an appearance in major league ballparks?  

Photo: Getty Images
Basically, they've shaved every second they can off the game and yet last season games were longer than they've ever been, much to Manfred's dismay. But rather than accept all these silly moves have made no impact and rescind them, he presses onward and downward with this latest move to eliminate the intentional walk -- and deny us forever the unexpected splendor of moments like this one from El Kraken last season. 

To us, it was a crucial insurance run, and a fun one at that. To our commissioner, it was a waste of time and boring baseball nobody wants to see. 

Is he even a fan of the game? Or does he have another agenda entirely? 

After reading the following by Bob Nightengale in USAToday this week, I'm seriously beginning to doubt the former and believing the latter. 

"Manfred, citing research, was alarmed that baseball had more inactivity during games than at any other time in history. Home runs were up 32% since 1980, and strikeouts increased by 67%. The emergence of powerful bullpens also limited the number of late lead changes. 'I'm firmly convinced that our fans want us to respond to and manage the change that’s going on in the game,' Manfred said. 'I’m certain our job as stewards of the game is to be responsive to fans, and I reject the notion that we can educate fans to embrace the game as it’s currently been played.' "

More home runs equal more inactivity to Manfred....and HE'S ALARMED ABOUT THEM.

Read that sentence again. MORE HOME RUNS EQUAL MORE  INACTIVITY TO MANFRED....and he's alarmed about them.

He's also alarmed by more strikeouts. 

So he doesn't like home run hitters doing well (I guess putting a clock on their home run trots can't be far off)  and he doesn't like pitchers doing well, which we already gathered from the clocks and other restrictions on them. 

So what the heck does this guy like about baseball anyway -- except, of course, that he thinks it's better if it ends quicker? 

I sure don't see it.

Photo: Sports Illustrated
Further along in Nightengale's piece, Manfred brandishes the sword of secret fan polling (as usual)  to justify his lunacy.  "We know based on fundamental research what our fans think about the game,” Manfred said. “It’s in the players’ interest, it’s in our interest, to be responsible to what fans think about the game.”

I find it telling he uses the term fundamental research to justify all this weirdness because fundamental or basic research is intended merely to fill in gaps in knowledge about  phenomena, and specifically about things that aren't directly applicable or useful. Applied research is research that seeks to answer a question in the real world and to solve a problem. Either Manfred's misspoke there or he's advocating substantive changes based on polling and demographic data that's by definition is woefully incomplete and may actually backfire in a big way. 

I'd love to see this fan research he constantly refers to because I've never seen a single poll where any demographic of the population that DOESN'T watch baseball says they WOULD consider becoming fans if the games were any shorter. And I've never personally met a soul who disliked the game that answered  length of the game when I asked them why. Not one. And believe me, I've met  plenty over the years and always asked. There's lots of reasons not to like baseball because it's a thinking person's game, and goodness knows, it's not hard to find very nice people with the attention spans and intellects of gnats who are repelled by it. And there are certainly no shortage of sports and games that appeal to them. But not even a 10-minute one-inning ballgame starting with the bases loaded for each team would suck them in. 

Ross Atkins: Toronto Blue Jays General Manager
The fact is when you like something it goes by too quickly no matter how long it actually is, and when you don't it can't end fast enough. And when  bizarre illogical changes  get  pushed hard by the highest executive in the game, it prompts  otherwise reasonable people like  Toronto's GM to suggest almost equally bizarre alternatives like lopping two innings off the length of games or our own  Yankees skipper to suggest radio headsets for certain players, because in their minds those options are reasonable by comparison. That's scary stuff.

I truly believe this whole push to shorten games started by  Selig and now carried on by his hand-picked stooge Manfred is just a smoke screen to appease the networks who are pissed there's no easy way to stop baseball games in the middle of play with bogus official timeouts so they can sell more commercials like they can with other clock-driven sports. So the networks just want the "baseball show" to end sooner so they can move on to the rest of their programming schedule that runs in 30 minute and 60 minute blocks of which 65% can be sold as commercial time (about the same percentage as the other sports). 

Truth be told, if they were really concerned  about attendance and viewership, they'd simply  lower prices for game tickets, concession food and MLB.TV subscriptions and aggressively market the added value. But as Nightengale points out in his piece, things are just hunky dory so there's no need.  Owners are making bigger profits than ever before. Even the smallest market franchises can afford to lock up their young stars to long-term mega deals and sign big-time free agents now. Players are earning more than ever before. More tickets are being sol than ever before and more people are seeing games on TV and their computers than ever before. There's no falling interest in baseball. There's no "there" there. The networks can't cram more commerical time into their telecasts without hurting other more lucrative commercial programming so all they can do is make it more cost-effective by getting it on and getting it off within as predictable a time period as possible.   Only the laziest old sportswriters, laziest old umps  and  most casual fans who don't really follow the sport to begin with seem to think the games need to be dramatically shortened. 

And Rob Manfred.

Baseball. Doesn't. Need. Clocks.

Take your base, commissioner. And take your illogical justifications and fuzzy research with you. 

 --Barry Millman
BYB Writer
Twitter: @nyyankeefanfore

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