I've got a confession to make-- I watch a lot of baseball. I mean, a lot. I love baseball. It is a cerebral, numbers-based game which stimulates my mind. It's a game of percentages. It's what I love about the game.
That's why it pains me to hear critics say that baseball is boring, that it takes too long. Watching baseball, I admit, can be boring much the same way watching a chess player or poker player think before making an action can be boring. And, yes, baseball games are too long. But the game of baseball, itself, is not boring.
Once you hear that undeniable crack of the bat against the ball, however, that is where the fun begins. Once you hear that beautiful sound, you perk up in your seat. Your blood starts pumping through your veins. Your heart starts to pound. The intricate wheels of the game begin to be put in motion. Players move in symmetry to their respective places on the field. Certain defenders chase the ball. Others run to their designated positions on the field. Offensive players race around the base paths.
That is the beauty of baseball.
Which brings me to my point. There is a disturbing trend going on in baseball which is suffocating the life out of the game. This trend disturbs me even more than the difficulties of the instant replay challenge system. Yes, it disturbs me that much.
My problem is with the growing popularity, or philosophy, of taking pitches. You've all heard the words- "Work the count." Analysts rave about teams like the Yankees and Red Sox for their ability to make starting pitchers build their pitch counts early.
"Look at that Derek Jeter. Look at the way he takes pitches. Look at the way he just fouls off pitches. He makes the pitcher work."
Red Sox fans need only watch Jonny Gomes this year to know what I am talking about. It seems like Gomes walks up to the plate with absolutely zero intention on swinging the bat. How many times have we seen him strike out looking? The fact that the third strike fastball catches a large chunk of the plate doesn't stop Gomes from turning to the home plate umpire in disgust.
Gomes is not alone. Like I said, I watch a lot of baseball. One of the more annoying players in this respect is the Cleveland Indians' Carlos Santana. Full disclosure: I have Santana on several of my fantasy baseball teams. Bear with me. This is only relevant for the fact that when I notice on my computer that he is at bat, I know I have a good five minutes leeway before switching my TV channel to the Indians game. I know he'll still be up. Santana will not swing the bat until he has two strikes on him. He will take fastballs right down the middle of the plate for the first two strikes, then swing at a curve ball in the dirt to strike out. To Santana's credit, he is second in the league in walks this year. The last two years, he was fifth. He is improving. Unfortunately, he is only hitting .164.
Cincinnati's Joey Votto led the league in walks last season with 135. That was 23 ahead of his nearest competition, Shin-Soo Choo. Everybody cheer! Here's the thing-- Votto signed a $252 million contract in 2012. The Reds agreed to pay Votto that money based on his 37 HR and 113 RBI production in 2010, as well as his 29 HR and 103 RBI output in 2011. I don't think the Reds signed on for his 135 walks and only 73 RBI (in a full 162 games) in 2013. Carlos Santana could do that.
Many argue, and I am sure Votto believes, that a walk is as good as a hit. True. But it is not as good as a three-run home run, which is what he is getting paid to do. And which is what fans want to see.
This is one of the things that is killing the game. Baseball is about trying to hit the ball. The base on balls was never meant to be a strategy. It was meant to be a punishment for the pitcher not giving the batter a fair opportunity to hit the ball. Ask Abner Doubleday.
It ruins the integrity of the game for me. Why not just pencil in a lineup consisting of all Eddie Gaedels? Gaedel, you may remember, was signed by St. Louis Browns' owner Bill Veeck in 1951. Gaedel only batted one time in the major leagues. You see, Eddie Gaedel was only 3'7". It was a publicity stunt. Gaedel, not surprisingly, walked on four pitches.
What's to stop an owner from doing that now? No pitcher would be able to throw three strikes against a batter that short. It would be a non-stop conga line of hitters walking to first base. It would go on in perpetuity. How much fun would that be? It would be like watching the Chicago White Sox pitching staff (15 base on balls issued in one game) the other night against the Red Sox. That was fun to watch, wasn't it?
When you go to the batting cage and put your coins in, do you then let three or four pitches hit the backstop before you take your first swing? Do you then let another two or three pitches go by before swinging again? Of course not. You want to get your money's worth. You want to hit the ball.
Which brings me to my proposal. I want hitters to swing. I want more action. I want games to be shorter.
How to do this? Make it three balls for a walk and only two strikes for a strikeout. Simple.
Call it "Speed baseball." Make batters be more aggressive. Fans would pay more attention. Fielders would be more alert. Games would be shortened. Starting pitchers could go deeper into games. There would be fewer pitching changes. Bring the complete games back for pitchers. Make the "win" more relevant for starting pitchers.
I understand the relevance such a drastic change would make on watering down a lot of records. It would be easier for starting pitchers to strike out 300 batters per season. Batting averages might drop. Scoring might dip, but, not necessarily. Forcing hitters to be more aggressive might produce even more scoring. Fewer pitches for starting pitchers would eliminate the need for many middle relievers. The players' union would hate it, but, again, fewer pitching changes speeds up the game.
Baseball is dying a slow death. Drastic changes need to be made to make it more exciting, more fast-paced. We live in a video game generation which demands non-stop action.
The game of baseball needs to step up to the plate and catch up with the times-- not just sit idly and watch the pitch go by.