July 19, 2021

Article at Steven on Authory

I will cut you guys a break.

Not sure (prolly never will be) that my accounts of BJOL (now that I’ve been freed of the bonds of loyalty and discretion that kept me from wondering in print about Bill’s own motivations and peculiarities in running the site as he chose to) aren’t being read as bitter sour-grapes whinging about Bill letting me go. They kind of come across that way to me sometimes, try as I may to present the simple narrative of what happened, and when, and how, and (in my opinion) why. And it really grates on me to think I might be boring readers.

So, since I have a few unpublished BJOL columns that really have no place elsewhere, I’ll publish a few of those sporadically, though the effect might be to break up my reflections on the circumstances of my firing. (Maybe that’s a good thing?) And I’ll intersperse these unpublished columns with my series of 1000+ word mini-essays on BJOL, and my leaving of it.

In fact (this is awful), I find I’ve formed the habit of speculating about baseball in a way that specifically answers the question “Is this a BJOL column?”—that’s to say, I’ve written a few pieces after being fired that belong on BJOL, and I can’t help writing them out. Like I say, habits die hard.

So this is one of those: Bill, and BJOL Reader Posts, have been stuffed full of suggestions for the past year or three for shortening the average time of games. I’ve come up with a few of my own, primarily allowing pitchers to throw anytime once a batter steps into the batter’s box, and not to allow the batter “time out” at any point thereafter. This alone, to paraphrase our former tangerine leader, will fix it.

But this solution introduces a problem: it changes the de facto rules of MLB. Actually, it doesn’t change the rules, since the batter is NOT allowed by the rules to call time on his own, but de jure that’s what goes on ever since the hallowed days of Saint Mike Piazza and Pope Derek Jeter holding up their holy palms to signal to the home-plate ump when play may begin. (There’s a clip that I just saw of Jed Lowrie expressing annoyance at a home-plate ump who briefly interfered with his right as a batter to say when “Time” was in: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39aDzQBXyZ4 .) Other suggestions, like limiting throws over to first base or restricting the number of relief pitchers called in while an inning is in progress, do change the written rules of MLB, and they too fail to solve completely the problem of unconscionably long game-times.

My suggestion, on the other hand, does speed up the game all by itself, and makes baseball once again watchable. Here it is:

Eliminate the extra-inning game. More precisely, eliminate the concept of settling tied games by playing extra innings.

What? Do I want “ties” to go into the record book, like hockey and soccer and other unwholesome, unAmerican travesties of sport?

Well, that’s not a horrible idea. (Yes, it is.) (No, it’s not.) (Shut up.) (No, YOU shut up.) (etc.)

No, I’m not proposing tie games. (OK, then.)

What I am proposing is a new way to settle ties, which is the whole purpose of playing extra-inning games in the first place.

A way that is not only competitive but also makes the first nine innings of every game go much, much, much faster.

Before I reveal what this idea is, however, I want to mention another idea to settle ties, and which isn’t a terrible idea either: Before every game, a HR-hitting contest shall be held (rules to be nitpicked at a later date) and the team that wins the HR contest shall be declared the winner of any tied nine-inning contest to be played that day.

This would be a crowd pleaser, wouldn’t it? Exciting, significant, efficient, clear.

But I think my idea is better, because, while less entertaining, it speeds up every baseball game. It does also use that concept of devising a way to settle ties that doesn’t involve extra innings, which is the single largest concept that must be overcome. Once you’re okay with settling ties by methods other than playing an indefinite number of extra-innings, this idea is sheer beauty:

Before every game of the season, you compare the previous game-times of ALL of both team’s games. (For Game #1, you can use the previous season’s game-times.) The team with the lower number gets the big “W” in the event of a tied game after nine.

Think what this rule change would accomplish: in every game, at every point, the players themselves would be under pressure to speed the game up. A pitcher dawdling on the mound, trachselating between pitches, would be yelled at by his infielders “Pitch the fucking ball, man! Get back on the fucking rubber and fucking PITCH awready!” and a batter stepping out of the batter’s box would likewise be screamed at by his own dugout, and on and on.

How many games go into extra innings? I have no idea, and just for fun, I’m not going to look up the stat. Instead I’m going to test out my “estimating” formula (because it doesn’t matter much if I’m totally off). My estimating formula, you will recall (or else), requires that I think of the lowest possible number that might be the correct answer and the highest number, find the midpoint, and then ask myself if that midpoint is likelier to be the new highest number or the lowest. I then use it as the higher or lower number and find a new mid-point, until I’ve got an estimate. This method turns out to be fairly accurate (more accurate than just “taking a shot”) and in this case, sparing you the tedious details, my estimate says that teams play about 16 extra-innings per season. (My actual estimate was 13.5, but I’m going to go with 16 because that’s about 10% of a season’s games.) Doesn’t matter if I’m off, because the point here is that is definitely NOT an insignificant number of games. Even my “lowest of the low” estimate, which was six per season, one per month, is not insignificant.

If a team wins all its tied games, that’s going to be HUGE. Huger than any other single factor in a game, I’d say. Huger than the quality of its bullpen. Much huger than the intelligence of its manager. Randy Johnson Huge. Prince Fielder Huge.

A team that dawdles now becomes a team that dooms itself to never winning a single pennant.

Of course, teams probably still won’t win (or lose) every tied game, because the lead in the all-important “lowest game-time” category will probably change hands a few times during the season, but still no team can afford to ignore it.

Wouldn’t that be great? To have every team hustling, not only during plays but between plays. I’ve long argued that, in itself, rushing through games heightens the athleticism of players, and rewards the smarter ones. Think: if a batter has to stand in at the plate while the pitcher has to throw quick-pitches at him, don’t they both need to react quickly to the ever-changing count, the game-situation, and won’t the smarter, more athletic players triumph in such conditions over the ill-prepared, slower-thinking, less athletic player?

Other kinds of dawdling would be penalized as well. One of the more intelligent objections to the current review process (which I love) is that it slows the game down to have the umps review the play from several different camera-angles. But this new rule would, all by itself, form a deterrent to managers demanding that plays be reviewed. Now, there would be a new cost/benefit question to stopping the game for three or four whole minutes. A manager would need to be damned sure he’s going to win the review in order to call for one.

In fact, I think in cases where the review-result is obvious (and there a few of those all the time, where everyone in the ballpark, including busy pretzel-vendors on the mezzanine plaza, sees that the ump blew the call), the team that got the ump’s call will concede, “Yeah, he blew it, let’s just move on, shall we?” to save a little time. Again, a total win-win-win-win-win.

All you’d lose would be extra innings.

We’re all habituated (I’ve been called “a son of habituated”) to think of extras as an inherent part of baseball, but when you think about it, there are plenty of ways that other sports settle ties, and most of them are more civilized than asking people to sit through an unspecified number of iterations until we get a final score. Imagine if boxing were to use the extra-innings model: “We’re going to make these two guys, who’ve just turned each other’s face into the texture of 93% fat-free turkeyburgers for 15 rounds keep slugging away until we can make up our minds who won.” Crazy, right? Uncivilized, even. Monstrous. Barbaric.

This would also act as a counter-balance to the desirability of deep counts. One of the things that has wrecked baseball, in my estimation, is the realization that batters want every count to go as deep as possible. I haven’t actually witnessed this, but I think it’s entirely plausible that a strikeout victim who takes ten or eleven pitches to achieve that embarrassing result will be congratulated by non-sarcastic teammates in the dugout for helping the team win by wearing out the opposing pitcher. Sad, no? A bit sick? But very likely true.

Not a lot of fun, though, is it, to watch full-count after full-count? So this will act as a counter-balance, and restore the game to its former glory by de-incentivizing running up the pitch-count as a positive, unalloyed virtue. It will again be good baseball to swing at the first pitch, at least sometimes. I find it very exciting to think of a game being played at lightning speed by both teams, and I think in many ways it would be a crisper, sharper game played that way as well.

I might even be willing to exempt certain games from the game-time total. In other words, for anyone who says “BUT sometimes you want to think things through, sometimes you need to use six relievers in an inning, sometimes a manager needs to make a mound visit that calls for lengthier discussion than the Democratic Nominating Convention in 1972”—to them, I concede “Okay, you can have 10 games per year (or whatever) that DON’T count towards your average game-time score.” Again, this would introduce a certain strategic element (in mid-game) that would separate the stupid sheep-managers from the sharp-minded goat-managers. Maybe at some point, the manager would decide “Christ, we’ve wasted too much time so far in this game, so let me make this game not count at all, and I’ll run up the game-time for both teams here.” The strategic part is in not wasting your exemptions too early in the year.

I don’t actually favor such a codicil, but it’s interesting to think about, in addition to being a sop to purists objecting to the whole ‘average game-time thing’ at all.

The big picture here is that at least an hour, maybe two hours, would be shaved off the time of an MLB game, with almost nothing valuable being lost. That would be, to my mind, a fantastic gain, and the only thing lost would be the concept of extra-innings.

With such a large conceptual change in how the game is played, of course, there will be unforeseen outcomes, which I’m willing to tolerate because of the hugeness of the gain. Without extra innings, I foresee the structure of rosters changing, for example: pitching staffs would be reduced from 13 or 14 pitchers to maybe 10 or so (fewer mid-inning pitching changes, no need for emergency pitchers in the 16th inning anymore, etc.). This looks to be a good thing—I can’t keep straight the multitudinous dudes filling out a MLB bullpen these days, anyway. There’s guys coming in to the game all the time now who draw the reaction of “Who the heck is he?” from me routinely.

This solution to baseball’s #1 problem is probably too radical to be adopted, or even considered, but that objection has never stopped me before. Some men see things the way they are and ask “Why?”—I see things that never were and ask “Why not?” (Then I usually ask if they can loosen the handcuffs a little bit.)