By HAL BOCK, AP
The proprietors of baseball, charged with the task of protecting and preserving the sport, insist on tinkering with it instead.
They keep fooling around with the game, changing the rules every so often, adding a designated hitter here, and a wild card team there. And now they have come up with the goofiest idea of all.
This season, every minor league game that is tied after nine innings will begin each extra inning with a runner on second base. This will be a better opportunity to break the tie so we can all go home.
That’s fine. It just isn’t baseball.
In baseball, runners are not awarded bases for no reason. They earn their way there. Not this season. Not in the minor leagues. Forget hits, runs and errors. Welcome to the baseball’s brave new world where we are in a hurry to get done with the game.
This is not new. It has been going on for some time. They insist on monkeying around with a sport that seemed awfully good in its original form.
It started with the designated hitter, a gimmick that turned a nine-player game into 10. Never mind that the DH leads to us having the World Series played with two sets of rules depending on whether games are played in American League parks, where the DH is embraced, or National League parks where it is dismissed. Doesn’t that make a lot of sense for the showcase event of the sport?
Oh, and speaking of the World Series, which once was a best-of-seven affair played in the shadows of October. Now, extended playoffs require 11 or 12 wins to claim the championship of the summer game’s biggest stage, which often ends in the autumn chill of November.
And all of the games are played at night, decided when the next generation of fans are safely tucked away in their beds. No wonder kids play soccer instead.
Once, the World Series was the only time the leagues played each other. Now the lords of baseball have homogenized the sport with interleague games every day, removing the uniqueness of the Series.
Then there is the clever wild card scheme, a one-and-done shootout, eliminating teams from the postseason if they lose a single game when they played 162 for that opportunity. A mistake here or there and a team that fought for one more chance at the postseason gets sent home in a heartbeat.
With analytics and algorithms encroaching on the game, sooner or later, technology was sure to follow. So now, after complaining that games were taking too long, we have video replays and umpires huddling to debate their calls for what seems an eternity while both teams stand around waiting for a decision.
To make things move along, we now have the automatic intentional walk. No need to throw four balls. Just take your base. That saves, oh, at least a minute or two each game, depending on how many walks are issued. Sometimes, there are none at all.
And now, they have come up with what might very well be the wackiest idea of all, an invitation to break ties as fast as possible.
In case you haven’t noticed, there is no clock in baseball. That’s part of the charm of the game. Basketball, football and hockey are ruled by dwindling minutes and seconds. Baseball is a more leisurely, thoughtful activity, more cerebral. But in this hurry-up world, that’s just not good enough for the people in charge.
Well, here’s a suggestion. Take a deep breath. Let the hitter step out of the batter’s box. Let the pitcher step back off the mound. Let them, consider the circumstances. And let them do it without some runner on second base who got there because we can’t let this game go on forever.
Here’s a better idea. Take away a defensive player for each extra inning played. Pretty soon, there will be only a couple of defenders, inevitably a run will score and we can all go home. Or maybe play Home Run Derby to decide the issue. It would be all sorts of fun. It’s just not baseball.
Do the tinkerers understand how annoying they are? They are messing around with a product that was perfect in its previous form. It could be again, if they would just leave it alone.
If the length of games is really an issue, there is another method which will limit the time spent in the ballpark considerably. The solution is simple. Set up a table at home plate with the two managers seated across from each other. Give them a set of dice and some neat spinners and they can decide the issue with a board game in an hour or so, just like kids did years ago.
Hal Bock was an Associated Press sports writer from 1963-2004, served as chief baseball writer and columnist, and covered 30 World Series.