Amid all the dark headlines, a ray of sunshine arrived this week.
They’ve been called the four most beautiful words in the English language, and you’ll get no argument here: Pitchers and catchers report!
Yet, at this time of incredible optimsm for the upcoming season – hey, the Cubs finally won a World Series – at a time you think they couldn’t possibly come up with a way to mess with baseball, they’ve found a way to mess with baseball.
And it’s not the White House, or the media, or even the Russsians that are trying to mess with the game. It’s baseball.
Or as Walt Kelly put it in “Pogo,” “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
This summer, baseball will experiment, in the rookie leagues, with trying to shorten extra-inning games by starting each inning with a runner on second base.
It’s something that’s already being done in international baseball and will be on display during the World Baseball Classic this spring. It’s also used in international softball as well.
It makes sense in the minors, where most baseball folks will tell you the emphasis is on player developoment, not winning. Why burn out a potential 20-game winner in a Springfield vs. Shelbyville all-nighter?
But in the major league game? Why mess with such a good thing?
It feels like another ideas that have come along of late designed to be thrown up against the wall to see if it sticks.
In recent times, these suggestions have included returning to a 154-game schedule (like this is a holy number), shortening games to eight innings, or, going back to ther ’70s, allowing a batter to take his base after Ball 3, while strikeouts occur after Strike 2.
There’s nothing wrong with extra innings, except to the TV folks who want a nice, crisp ending to things, or those with short attention spans looking for the next shiny object to chase.
A quick Googling turns up an intersting tidbit: Extra inning games, in a typical season, account for only eight to 10 percent of all major league games. Do we really want to mess with a system for such a miniscule number of games across 162 games?
And what about the playoffs? Will we be robbed of great moments like Game 2 of the Giants-Nationals series in 2014, settled in the 18th inning on Brandon Belt’s homer (a game that should have only gone nine innings anyway since Buster Posey was safe on that call at the plate … but I digress!).
Plus, as a recovering baseball numbers-cruncher, there’s a myriad of questions: How to account for the runner on second? Does this cheapen the RBI? And how do you figure out which runner starts the inning on second?
In recent years, college and pro football, as well as the National Hockey League and international soccer have installed tiebreaking proceedures for the regular season. In all sports, it created a system that didn’t exist previously. And while ovetime may have been a distraction in the Super Bowl, it doesn’t mess with the excitement that is overtime in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But baseball has a tiebreaking system in place. It’s called extra innings. It’s worked for a century and then some. Why are we messing with success?