Between the suddenly palatable World Baseball Classic and the vaunted rules changes for Major League Baseball, the publicity machine has been redlined even in competition with a bonkers March Madness basketball tournament full of monumental upsets.
My rules change fatigue settled in around Valentine’s Day, and I refer readers of this site to Jonah Hall’s excellent breakdown of how the regulatory alterations will affect the game. Bigger bases, a clock for pitchers to deliver the ball, a clock for batters to settle into the batter’s box, only two pick-off attempts, no infield shifts, etc. If it ain’t fixed, don’t re-break it.
A recent conversation with my older brother brought to my attention a by-product of the pitch clock. It will not only rush some of the hurlers who’ve established pre-pitch routines or need a breather during a 12-pitch at bat by Joey Votto, it will also rush the announcers.
My brother’s a big Jon Miller fan, and listening to San Francisco Giants games on the radio from his welding studio in Bodega Bay is his thing. Miller’s obsessed by boats and many of his anecdotes are set adrift by the flotilla in McCovey Cove. So, while Logan Webb rushes to find the rosin bag on the back of the mound, Miller will have to wrap up his story post-haste and we all suffer for it. Just for the sake of “shortening” games and underselling your product? I say it’s not worth it. You’re not going to sell the game to the younger generation based on pointless minutiae and self-congratulatory hair-splitting.
There are those of us who are “immersed” in the game and enjoy detached radio coverage where you can go about your business and listen to the voice in the dark room, as Garrison Keillor used to say. It will be unfortunate if the broadcasters are forced to condense stories into USA Today-style mini-bites and 280-character Tweets. Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay used to be an unconscionable ball-breaker about games being too long. Has anyone thought of shortening the length of the between-innings commercial breaks? I think not.
Next year, maybe MLB will decide to shorten the Green Monster in Boston and replace Wrigley Field’s ivy with hologram plants? Constant busywork change for change’s sake.
I am glad they ruled out the ridiculous infield shifts being deployed in the past few seasons. There’s some semblance of order, then, in having two infielders on the dirt on either side of second base.
When the Dominican Republic faced Puerto Rico in the semi-finals of the World Baseball Classic, I knew the minute Johnny Cueto took the mound for the D.R. that they were doomed. Cueto sent me back to the National League Wild Card game of 2013. Reds at the Pirates in a jammed PNC Park. One of the most exciting moments in Pirates baseball in the past several decades. Cueto is facing Russell Martin and the crowd starts the slow chant of his name, much like the old “Darryl” chant used against Mets slugger Darryl Strawberry. Cueto has a 2-1 count on Martin and suddenly he drops the baseball and it dribbles down the mound and the crowd goes wild. He sheepishly retrieves the rolling horsehide orb and then delivers a hanging curve ball down the middle that Martin deposits into the leftfield chairs at PNC Park to put the Bucs up 2-0.
The Pittsburghers go even crazier and yinzers are still talking about that homer to this day. The Bucs win 6-2 and advance. I revisited the footage of this great moment and timed it. Thirty seconds expired by the time Cueto retrieved the ball, dropped it and then gophered it. Had there been a pitch clock of 12 seconds, Martin would’ve snoozily been awarded first base and none of this glory would’ve happened. This is what the pitch clock could do, as ESPN’s Jeff Passan noted recently, citing the epic Shohei Ohtani vs. Mike Trout at bat to end the WBC. There were six pitch clock violations during that AB, Passan noted. Luckily those new rules were not in place for the WBC.
So, in a Jules Verne sense of the Time Machine, the pitch clock could rob us in advance of great dramatic moments. It becomes the intentional walk, 3.0, in a sense, since MLB had already altered the free pass a couple of years ago. Bobby Thomson’s homer? Bill Mazeroski’s homer? Kirk Gibson’s homer? Dissolved by the hands of time for the sake of fans beating the traffic with an earlier exit?
Oh, by the way Blue Jays over Padres in the 2023 World Series. Toronto sweep.