“Anyone who wants to know the heart and mind of America must better learn baseball …”
– Jacques Barzun, American historian
It’s that simple.
Of course, the more than 400 pieces of electoral restrictive legislation passed or being considered throughout the county are a travesty.
In fact, between these bills and the Supreme Court’s movement to effectively empty the suffrage law of the mid – 60s, we have entered one of the most oppressive times of my life.
And while these are certainly more important than much of anything else happening in our world, it is not the travesty I am referring to.
No, it is not the right to vote; it’s the attack on America’s pastime: Baseball.
Of course, with the Detroit Tigers putting AAA players on Comerica Park’s turf, I did not expect to find greatness.
But I expected to find the game I grew up with: 9 rounds, full double heads and sometimes extra rounds that can extend well into the night.
Unfortunately, Major League Baseball asserted itself and somehow believed that changing the rules would bring young people with short attention back to the ballpark.
And that experiment started not so long ago with a stopwatch being imposed between the seats.
Then there were limiting steps outside the mixing box and trips to the mound.
And now we have extra innings that start with a designated runner on second base – plus any double heads that are limited to 7 innings.
What’s next: Pennants for participation?
The truth is that baseball has never been a speed game – except between the bases or to catch a long flyball.
Instead, it’s a game to enjoy on a hot sunny afternoon or a cool evening, with a sausage in one hand and a beer in the other.
Or is it the background sound on the radio when you grill a Saturday afternoon meal – or sit on the beach and watch the world go by.
It’s not football – where you do not really need to watch live, because every game is played again.
Again and again.
It is not hockey, which is so fast that the networks once tried to mark the puck so that innocents could try to track the movement on the ice.
(Hockey is best left to professional fans.)
Nor is basketball, which has been reduced to a series of highlight rolls imitated on courses across the country.
No, baseball has always been something different – and not to everyone’s taste.
Of course, those who defend the changes say one of two things:
Either they were needed to speed up the game to maintain interest.
Or, even better, they claim that there have always been changes in the game – starting with the introduction of ball gloves and including the chosen hitter.
But many of the changes were to make the game safer (gloves and helmets), not to make the game fit into a predetermined schedule.
The exception was the designated hitter in the American League, which is a crime against the sport: designed mostly to extend the careers of aging players, it effectively removed one of the major strategic elements of the game: Should the musty bat as the game progresses?
In Detroit, we had one of the greatest pinch hitters of all time – Gates Brown – who often fought for boxes that were drawn late in the inning.
But I’m going away.
Simply put, these last two changes – the 7-inning double-headed and putting a man on second base in extra innings – are the most fearless.
This is not softball or T-ball.
This is professional baseball.
OK, maybe not as professional as it could be, not for repeated expansion of the leagues – and dilution of talent.
But that’s part of the problem: The dilution of talent spread over many teams has led to mediocre players now being in the majors.
And they behave as if they are somehow in the same series of historical – or even modern – stores.
This dilution of talent has already had an impact on other elements of the game – with inferior pitchers inflating the average of otherwise marginal hitters, and mediocre hitters inflating the statistics of so-so hurlers.
But again I go away.
While Major League Baseball has its problems, the calm pace of the game is not one of them.
If that were the case, baseball would have long ago standardized the size of each ballpark.
Think about it: Soccer fields are the same size, so are basketball courts (and the height of the basket) and North American hockey fields.
Standardize the exterior dimensions of each baseball field, and homeruns in one park will also be a homerun in every other park.
Instead, Major League Baseball celebrates the game’s uniqueness: the Green Monster of Fenway, the ivy walls of Wrigley, the right field overhang at Old Briggs Stadium (OK, Tiger Stadium for the kids).
So why not celebrate the unique nature of America’s pastime?
I mean, think of the phrase that celebrates baseball: it’s a pastime, not a timed event.
No one calls a video game a “pastime” – no more than the label can be attached to basketball, football or hockey.
These sports have time clocks that make it possible for TV to program advertising within the set limits on the schedule.
(Even NASCAR has defined laps around; drivers do not drive until they are exhausted.)
However, have you noticed that the networks have added 30 minutes to the NFL game window? They recognized that having more reruns creates more time to slip in more commercials.
Baseball, on the other hand, is literally timeless: when a game begins, we simply do not know when it will end.
The longest game in the major leagues was a little over a hundred years ago – May 1, 1920: a 26-game game between the Brooklyn Robins (later the Dodgers) and the Boston Braves.
It was called because of darkness.
But here’s the cool part: It was over in just under four hours; by comparison, today’s average 9-inning game lasts just over 3 hours.
The longest game of all was a 33-inning, three-day monster between the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings: It was played 18-19. April and June 23, 1981.
And yes, I had sat through or listened to both games.
With a sausage in one hand and a beer in the other.
Finally, I do not see much need to change the rules of professional baseball to compete with entertainment that simply can not be compared.
But as a student of the game since I was old enough to go, I can tell you that the easiest way to bring the length of games back to where they once were is to do one thing.
When players go from sandlots to the Little League to high school, college, and minors, remind everyone that they are not going to Ty Cobb or Babe Ruth.
That there is no excuse for them to adjust each garment, pillow and glove between each pitch.
A .250 hitter does not become a .300 hitter because he took the time to adjust the bat gloves.
Just get up there, stand in there and wait for the pitch.
Few, if any, will ever be the next Sandy Kofax or Denny McLain – so stop tapping around the pile after each pitch.
Just stare in, get your sign and throw the ball.
In the end, baseball is not a complicated game, but it is the most difficult in sports: in no other game do you try to hit one round object with another round object.
And therein lies the beauty of baseball: waiting for the perfect moment when bats meet the ball.
You simply can not set the stopwatch on it.
Craig Farrand is the former managing editor of The News-Herald Newspapers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.