When God created the world, he made mistakes. When God created baseball, he made perfection.
Now though, like irreverent and ungrateful children, the commissioner and owners have instituted new rules for the 2015 season foolishly trying to hurry the pace of a game designed to exist outside of time.
But baseball doesn’t need progressive reformation. It needs only its own immortal orthodoxy.
Of all the sports that matter, baseball alone escapes the tyranny of the timepiece. Bound by the two hands of the clock, basketball conforms to quarters, hockey obeys periods, and football submits to halves. In each, the clock does more than just mark the remaining moments. It shapes the consciousness of the players and guides the outcome of the game.
In baseball, every inning encapsulates a potential infinity. Each unit of play contains three outs and every game, nine innings, but otherwise hours and minutes have never factored into the sport. Fat ladies, walk-off homers, and shutdown closers mark the end of the game — not obnoxious buzzers.
With his new pace-of-play apostasy, rookie commissioner Rob Manfred has forced a temporal construct on a holy institution. Fearful that the length of a baseball game eclipses the attention and imagination of the average American, the commissioner conjured new speed-up rules.
To hurry things, the batter’s box becomes a cage, as hitters must keep a single foot within the chalk lines throughout their at-bat. Then to squeeze the game through a broadcast window, digital timers countdown from 2:25 between innings, as if the traditional intricacies of so called “non-game-action” need only the same time necessary to boil a runny egg.
In the lesser sanctuaries of Double and Triple A ball, a more insidious heresy has emerged: pitch clocks. These electronic eyesores force young pitchers to throw within twenty seconds of touching the rubber. They also offer a threatening message to Major League professionals: Conform to the new pace of play rules or submit to the pitch-clock monstrosity.
Last year, the average baseball game lasted 3 hours and 14 minutes. That’s a ghastly sum of time until compared with football, the United States’ more violent and popular past time. In 2013, the average NFL game lasted 3 hours and 12 minutes on an average of just 11 minutes of actual game play.
While these new rules might shave a few minutes off, they won’t substantially shorten baseball and they won’t attract new fans. Instead, they’ll fundamentally transform the mental element of the game.
Baseball is the sport of intellect and nuance. More firebrand than philosopher, even Red Sox slugger David Ortiz understands that. Infamous for an excessive batting routine, he steps out after each pitch to readjust his batting gloves before reentering the box. Big Papi explains that he’s not slowing the game down when he steps out. Rather his “mind is speeding up,” anticipating the pitcher’s next move.
Invisible to the undisciplined eye exists a constant mental struggle between hitters and pitchers, a game-theory battle that demands brains as much as brawn.
The new rules balk this cerebral baseball ballet. Putting the batter at an artificial disadvantage cheapens the strikeout and the game. Without moments to reflect, hitter anticipation will decline and pitching will ascend to dominance, and the game will flatline.
Worst of all, Commissioner Manfred’s progressive vision cuts at the heart of baseball. As a historical institution, the sport has remained constant over more than a century. And aside from the designated hitter heresy, it has remained pure.
Every player who steps on the field follows the same rules as the players who came before him. When at bat or in the field, they compete against opponent both in the dugout and in the record book. In the same way, when fans punch their ticket at the ballpark, they commune with those who filled the stands before them.
The timeless game, baseball preserves the past for the future. Enduring emotional bonds overlap the elements of the game giving it permanency. We love baseball in the same way we cherish the memories of our first catch, our first hit, and our first major league stadium.
With his new rules, Commissioner Manfred severs these bonds. Baseball was made perfect. Then he ruined it. Now he needs to change it back.