There was a doubleheader requiring much station changing last Sunday. Houston and Atlanta started Game 5 of the World Series at 7:09 p.m., Twin Cities time. The Vikings and Dallas kicked off at 7:20 p.m. in the ZygiDome.
The first half ended with the Vikings deciding to sit on a 10-3 lead. Immediately, I switched to the World Series. There were two outs in the bottom of the third inning. It would take three more pitches over two more minutes for Atlanta's Adam Duvall to conclude a 12-pitch at-bat with a pop-up against reliever Yimi Garcia.
So, there it was: If you give the World Series an 11-minute head start in the 2020s, it can almost be finished with one-third of a regulation game in the same time that it takes to play half an NFL game.
As with most others old enough to have relished the time when baseball held the kingly position in American sports, I've comforted myself with the idea that a single advantage this game always would have was tradition.
Now, with Duvall regaining comfort in the box, and Garcia peering for long seconds to get together with catcher Martin Maldonado on a pitch and preferred location, only to produce another foul ball, it finally was drilled 100% into my cranium:
There is no tradition left to protect in baseball. It is gone. Like Junior Johnson was to Thomas Wolfe, Madison Bumgarner (Giants, 2014) stands as postseason baseball's Last American Hero.
All those young men (and now a few women) who should be using those big brains trained at high-falutin Eastern colleges to come up with noble ideas to stave off future pandemics, or to cool our oceans, or to spy more efficiently on the Russians, have instead decided on the lark of taking over Major League Baseball and ruining it to the best of their considerable abilities.
In the crazed search for "efficiencies" in the game, never once have the intellectual wizards paused for this consideration: Will this latest strategic novelty make the game more appealing to the sports watcher?
The brainiacs don't ask that, because they know the answer is "no," and not a routine "no," but a Jerry Burns-defending-Bob Schnelker with all those adjectives "no."
There are roughly 700 active members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. I was No. 6 on the seniority list in 2021, moving up one spot when Sid Hartman (after only a year at No. 1) left this mortal coil in October 2020.
When you're No. 6 among 700, it screams that you're an advocate for hanging on desperately to baseball's traditions.
I fulfilled that stereotype over the previous decade of this lightning-fast revolution, with outrageous fielding shifts, "openers" and "bullpen games" and acceptance of .220 and 200 strikeouts for the glory of 30 bombas.
All the while, Major League Baseball was becoming the game of four true outcomes: walk, strikeout, home run or "Cripes … I'm going to bed."
And thus it came to the bottom of the third inning in Game 5 of the World Series in Atlanta, with Duvall at the plate for an at-bat that had the potential to last through halftime, and there was this thunderbolt:
"I'm in favor of an electronic strike zone, immediately."
The plate umpire will have enough other duties to stay busy — namely, making sure the hitter is ready to hit within eight seconds and the pitcher has thrown his next pitch within 20 seconds.
For all of baseball's issues, No. 1 is time spent waiting for pitches to be thrown. The pitch clock is MLB's simplest and best hope.
You aren't ready to hit within eight seconds: strike. You don't throw a pitch within 20 seconds: ball. Plus, with a second offense for a hitter or a fourth offense for a pitcher: ejected.
Catchers wouldn't be contorting into position to "steal a strike." He will give a sign, the pitcher has time for quick shake of the head, and … here's a pitch!
Get that part of the game moving — no Luis Arraez journeys around the batter's box, no trying to hit a spot two inches off the plate to take advantage of "framing" — and the rest of Baseball 2020s gets back on the road to tolerability.
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