America no longer has the time to enjoy America’s past time.
Major League Baseball has announced that it will begin experimenting with a pitch clock at the Double-A and Triple-A levels this season after having tested it in the Arizona Fall League last year. The reason? Apparently, baseball games are just too long.
Someone please correct me if I’m wrong, but aren't leisure activities endeavors that we enjoy? And doesn't human nature dictate that when we enjoy something, we want it to last longer and that we lament the moment when inevitably the enjoyment has to end? If so, then how can baseball games be too long for baseball fans?
Do moviegoers ask the theater to fast forward to the end of a film, just to get to the conclusion in an expedited fashion? Are true book lovers spurred on by how quickly they can fly through the pages of a novel or rather by how long they can remain enveloped in the story? How often is a Caribbean vacation cut short a day or two, just because the vacationers have had enough of the sun and sand?
The answer to each of these questions is no. Why? Because we are always rushing. The point of leisure activities is to do them leisurely. And the longer we are away from the usual grind, the better. Thus, this whole pitch clock proposal presents quite a curious paradox. If we love baseball, and all it has to offer us, how can the games be too long?
Enough with the rushing everyone. Do we really want to make baseball games just like the rest of our lives?
Baseball is a welcome respite from our disposable, frenetic, instant gratification mentality where the beauty of one moment is sacrificed unmercifully just for the sake of the one right behind it. What ever happened to being in the moment, of appreciating what is in front of us before looking for our next diversion? Remember when we used to revel in the ballpark experience, singing whimsically,“buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks, I don’t care if I ever get back”? What happened? Now all I seem to be hearing is “Hurry up out there. I have a thousand other things to do.”
Anybody out there who really understands the game of baseball will insist that Major League Baseball pull the plug on the pitch clock. It only makes sense. What is it that separates our national past time from the other sports we watch so dutifully throughout the year? Maybe some reflection is needed here before implementing any monumental alterations that are slowly encroaching on the sanctity of a storied institution.
Baseball has no clock. That’s sort of the point. Like life itself, baseball has an inherent order and structure. But the game also remains wonderfully capricious, offering moments in time that are blissfully incomprehensible and so intoxicating for no other reason than we never saw them coming. Where would my beloved ’86 New York Mets be today without that miraculous game 6 comeback, made possible by the game being unfettered by time? That’s always been the beauty of baseball. Time does not matter. Baseball, unlike timed sporting events, offers us a glimpse into a world where anything is possible. And with no clock ticking away with cold detachment, those possibilities remain endless. This kinship we have with the game of baseball was best celebrated by Roger Angell in “The Interior Stadium.”
“Within the ballpark, time moves differently, marked by no clock except the
events of the game. Since baseball time is measured only in outs, all you have
to do is succeed utterly; keep the rally alive, and you have defeated time. You
remain forever young.”
Baseball time. It is what all of us long for. To be governed by the tenets of the game and not some time piece that imposes limitations. The reality of our every day lives is that we are always on the clock. It dictates everything we do and often interferes with our ability to find peace and happiness. We commiserate with each other every opportunity we have. “I am just so busy, do not have enough time, blah, blah, blah.” So why make it worse? A pitch clock will do just that. We go to baseball games to escape our reality, not to be reminded of it.
Lost in all of the discussion remains why rule 8.04 has never been enforced. For those unfamiliar with this piece of baseball legalese, here is what it looks like:
When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter
within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call "Ball."
Rule 8.04 has never been invoked during play for until now, baseball folks have recognized the value of those seconds - whether it be 12, 18, or 25. Part of baseball’s pageantry, albeit cerebral and not observable to the casual spectator, is the “cat and mouse” that exists between pitcher and batter. Pitch selection is not arbitrary; it requires thought and methodology. And thought and methodology require time. Batters also benefit from that time, adjusting their approach to each pitch while the pitcher and catcher are deciding on a course of action. A pitch clock would all but destroy the artful machinations that occur during the time a pitcher receives a ball back from the catcher and when he is ready to deliver once again. Pitchers may also argue, and rightfully so, the sudden rush to action could even marginalize their performance.
Both effects are enough to make Major League Baseball abandon this foolish idea.
I cannot help but think about my fire-balling protagonist from my The Legend of Mickey Tussler series. Poor Mickey never would have made it out of his first inning if he had to worry about navigating a pitch clock. Pitchers control the game for reason.
Video replay has already tattered the fabric of the game; pushing pitchers to compete with a clock, will completely unravel it.
I have the solution for how to improve the game of baseball. Stop tampering with it. Major League Baseball’s time would be better served extolling the attributes of the game that make it unique rather than trying to change them.