Rick Reilly wrote that he loved baseball but stopped watching it when the games got slower than sloth races, that is, until this year now that baseball has installed the wonderful, brain-saving clock. I, too, love baseball, but not as much as I used to since as one gets older there are so many other distractions that one must deal with in life.
My love for baseball began during winter in early 1951 when I found a baseball card of “Whitey” Ford on the sidewalk in the street on New York City’s Lower East Side. Shortly thereafter, piquing my interest, I caught on the radio station WINS the voice of the Yankees, Mel Allen, broadcasting a Yankees’ spring training game from St. Petersburg and I became hooked on the sport. Mel’s broadcasting the game was one thing, but it was his sharing specific history of the game which remains indelibly stuck in my mind, especially the most important numbers of the game.
Sixty was the greatest number in the game for the longest period of time. How about 2,130 or 56? Most baseball fans should know that 60 was Babe Ruth’s 1927 single-season, home run record that stood for 34 years until Roger Maris broke it with 61 in 1961. 2,130 was Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played that ended in 1939 until Cal Ripken broke it in 1995, some 56 years later. But then there’s the 56 that stood high above in Yankees’ lore. The 56 was Joe DiMaggio’s record, set in 1941, for the most consecutive games hitting safely. That earned Joe the American League’s Most Valuable Player award.
But baseball is a game also of argument. The award given DiMaggio for his accomplishment was questioned. How is that possible you ask? 1941 happened to be the same year that Ted Williams became the last player to reach .400 when he batted .406. Mel certainly made the game more interesting. But let’s face it. In reality, baseball is a game of numbers and statistics. If you screw around with the numbers, you screw around with the game.
Getting back to speeding up baseball, as a young boy, how great was it to go to the ballpark and root for your team and hope that the day would never end? Being at the ballpark was ecstasy. The longer the game, the better. The longest game in baseball history? Twenty-six innings! Baseball is like a novel. It tells a story with so many twists and turns. At times it created greatness.
Unlike other sports, there are so many more variables. Let’s take a simple one like batting, like the concentration needed to make sure that you don’t get hit in the face with a baseball traveling 90 miles an hour or more. Pitchers also must be ready for a ball coming off the hitter’s bat at over 100 miles an hour. Check out a pitcher by the name of Herb Score. He was a Sandy Koufax to be before Sandy Koufax, but…
In baseball, you need time to think, even if it’s for only a split second. “What if the ball is hit to me, what should I do?” or “Should I throw a fast ball, curve or change up?” or “If he attempts to steal, what should I do?” or, or, or “or to the Nth power. Let’s not forget that baseball is a thinking game. So many variables. When a clock is used to speed up the game, the focus is no longer be on the ability of the players but more on how fast they can get things done.
With the new clock rule, crazy things are bound to happen and in a spring training game this year, it already happened. In a Braves-Red Sox game, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of a tie game, Cal Conley of the Braves walked with the bases loaded on a 3-2 pitch to apparently win the game, but the umpire ruled him out because he wasn’t set in the box as the clock wound down under 8 seconds. The penalty is an automatic strike which led to the game finishing in a tie. The pitcher got the strikeout after throwing only two real strikes. A batter can also walk after only three balls are called.
Baseball doesn’t need a time clock. Between pitches, there ain’t nothing like sipping some beer quickly to make sure you don’t miss any action. There’s so many stoppages that it’s easy to finish a can of beer and enjoy the game even more, You want a shot clock? Basketball has it because it’s a fast-moving game. The pros must get a shot off before 24 seconds are up. The moves the players make are breathtaking. Speed! Speed! Speed!
You ever watch a game when the score is close moving into the final two or three minutes? Each team could have four timeouts and with substitutions, those final two minutes could take longer than the official 12-minute time for a quarter. This is the epitome of slow motion in action.
Baseball? I want my money’s worth. If the baseball game is over fast, I can run to my smart phone and tell all my friends about how long it’s taking for me to get out of the stadium’s parking lot. Speed! Speed! Speed! Hurry. The world is coming to an end.
Let me respond to a comment made by Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts to Mr. Reilly who said, “If we’d had a pitch clock my entire career, I might have learned how to play the violin by now.” What Mr. Roberts failed to mention is that playing the violin would probably have earned him a minimum wage salary. Let the players earn their millions by working longer hours. If you really want to speed up the game, reduce the number of advertisements shown during the game.
Baseball should be treated more like a rock star performing at a concert where their fans are shouting “MORE! MORE! MORE!” like they never want it to end. As Mel Allen would say, baseball’s “a Ballantine Blast”, with affirmation by the “Voice of Basketball”, Marv Albert, with his declaration of an emphatic “YES!”
You want a time clock? For baseball, it should be the sound of alarm.