By now most of us are used to and happy with the changes Major League Baseball implemented this season to speed up the pace of play during games. As you recall, pitchers have 15 seconds to get into motion to deliver the pitch with the bases empty and 20 seconds if there is a runner on base.
Pitchers can only throw twice to a base in an attempt to keep a runner from stealing. If a pitcher throws a third time and the runner makes it back safely, the runner automatically advances to the next base. So far games have been about 20 minutes shorter than in past seasons.
A change that I’d like to see and is being tried in Triple-A, the highest level of the minor leagues this season, is a computerized strike zone. Without it, different home plate umpires interpret the strike zone a bit differently, and, being human, sometimes change as the game wears on.
The Automatic Ball-Strike system calls balls and strikes by computer and relays it to the home plate umpire. That eliminates arguments, and temper tantrums from players and managers which delay a game and could lead to an umpire throwing someone out of the game for foul language and bumping him. The main reason is to get the ball/strike call correct and not have a player called out for a pitched ball outside the strike zone and vice-versa.
I hope it’s implemented in the major leagues by next season. I wouldn’t tinker any more with our great game. I keep thinking of the two great comments by sportswriter Red Smith.
“Baseball is dull only to those with dull minds,” and “Ninety feet between the bases is the closest to perfection that man has yet to achieve.”
The bases are a bit bigger this season: 18 inches; it was 15 inches square in previous seasons. The distance between first base and second base is 4.5 inches closer, and the same between second and third base. Stolen bases have gone up and that is providing more action.
Also providing more action is all infielders have to be on the infield dirt – two on each side of second base – when the pitcher delivers the ball. In previous seasons managers usually moved the second baseman to short right field for a left-handed batter, and what should have been a single to right field turned into an easy out at first base. Once the pitcher is in motion, the infielders can run in any direction they want.
Attendance is up this season and so are television ratings. The NFL claims football is the number one sport. I say no. Because of the wear and tear on football players, they can’t play more than once a week. But if they could play a 162-game season as major league baseball does, they would draw far less than baseball as the months wore on. Also football stats can’t compare to baseball. It’s quite an accomplishment for a baseball player to hit .300 and have 100 runs batted in (RBI). For a pitcher who wins 20 games with a low earned run average (ERA) is considered a star.
You can argue that the box score is man’s best achievement. Think about it. As a veteran broadcaster of the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, and Baltimore Orioles, Ernie Harwell, used to say, “The box score is the perfect condensation of a game. Nowhere in any other sport can we get such a succinct summary.
Henry Chadwick, the baseball editor of the New York Clipper, fathered the box score in 1859 while covering a game in south Brooklyn. He borrowed some information from a scorecard he kept and used while covering cricket.
Chadwick tinkered with it through the years to streamline the information and a year before he introduced the box score in 1858, he wrote baseball’s first rule book. In 1873, he started the first baseball weekly, “The Ball Player’s Chronicle.”
Chadwick, who was born in England in 1824 and came to America when he was 13 years old, got his first job covering cricket for the Long Island Star. While covering cricket in 1856 he noticed some boys playing baseball at the far end of a field and was bitten by the baseball bug.
Chadwick dropped covering cricket and focused solely on baseball and wrote for several New York papers and others around the Eastern part of the country. Henry Chadwick became editor of the Spalding Baseball Guide in 1888 and remained in that position until his death at 84 in 1908.
One of the best pitchers that Chadwick lived to see was a native American, Chief Bender of legendary manager Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics. Bender won 212 games with a low 2.46 earned run average in a career that spanned from 1903 to 1914 and often told reporters how he and other pitchers studied box scores to gain knowledge of the team they were about to face.
“We used to study box scores for hours every morning before the games,” Bender recalled. “We knew which batters were hitting well and which ones were in a slump. We memorized what the batters did in the few days before we faced them.”
In the first movie about Jackie Robinson released in 1950, starring Jackie himself. veteran character actor Minor Watson plays the fast-talking, cigar-chomping Branch Rickey, part-owner and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who convinces Robinson to become the first black player in the major leagues.
Watson as Rickey makes a passionate speech to Robinson about the box score.
“A box score is real democratic, Jack,” Watson says to a seated Robinson. “It doesn’t tell you what color you are, how big you are or how your father voted in the last election or what church you attended. It just tells you what kind of ballplayer you were on that day.”