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A Thing of Beauty

October 19, 2018
By Darren Fraser , Emmetsburg News

Is October baseball.

I appreciate and respect I am in football country. This is not an either/or editorial. I enjoy the first Sunday morning NFL games. In California, they aired in the morning. Here? Brunch?

But my space is limited; let me say what I came here to say.

Baseball is like no other sport. It is more like a rumination or like chess. Unlike the other ball sports, which are constantly moving, baseball is nearly evenly divided between motion and rest. This division adds a contemplative component to the game, both for players and fans.

Over the years, baseball has tried to accommodate this country's short-term-attention-span epidemic. Just this year, baseball instituted a rule limiting the number of trips a catcher, pitching coach or manager can make to the mound. A few years back, baseball set a clock on pitchers to discourage some hurlers from easing into retirement on the mound.

Hopping into our way-back machine, the American League instituted the designated hitter because fans collectively groused when pitchers came to the plate and snuffed out scoring chances. Fans also love the long-ball, so adding more lumber to the lineup constituted a win-win.

Setting our way-back machine to just a few years ago, baseball trotted out interleague play. And it decided to pare back the opportunities for human error to affect outcomes when the league introduced instant replay for some calls.

The introduction of the designated hitter signaled the end of baseball's uniqueness. Once an elegant ballet, the game overnight became a paean to fan appeasement.

To this day I do not understand the reason for interleague play. Keeping the leagues separate until the post-season, when the A.L. pits its best against the N.L. was brilliant.

As for setting clock on pitchers, limiting the number of summits on the mound and instant replay?

First, pitchers and batters play cat and mouse; this is an integral part of the game. Part of the cat and mouse jousting has to do with mind games. Pitchers shake off signs; batters step out of the box; pitchers shake, batters step. That's strategy and that's baseball.

Limiting the number of trips to the mound gives the impression these visits are capricious; they're not. Pitchers get rattled; they lose their stuff. Or they can't get on the same page with their catchers. A pitching coach trots out to the mound to encourage or to buy time for the reliever warming up in the bullpen. Managers typically ascend the mound when it's time to pull the pitcher. These, too, are part of the strategy of baseball.

Instant replay? Players are human. Fans are human. Umpires are human. Baseball is played by humans, coached by humans and enjoyed by humans. Humans make mistakes, including umpires. Unpleasant, sure. Frustrating, absolutely. But for those who bemoan baseball's snail's pace, instant replay further slows down the game. Worse, instant replay tries to perfect an imperfect pastime. And when you consider that it is the imperfections that give rise to the entertainment, why mess with the formula? How insufferably dull would the game be if a pitcher didn't leave a hanging curve or a short-stop didn't boot that easy grounder?

The Fall Classic is fast approaching. These changes I catalogued are here to stay. I only hope the baseball gods will see fit to leave the game alone.

 
 
 

 

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