Hall of Fame center fielder Willie Mays once described baseball in a most appropriate manner. "For all its gentility and it's almost leisurely pace," he said, "baseball is violence under wraps". Mays provides reason to believe there is a method to the sometimes maddeningly slow pace of the game, although it is apparently a message that is currently falling on deaf ears.
It might be assumed that anyone who has attended a spring baseball game in Wyoming ia an avid fan of speedup rules for the sport. Cowboy State fans often take several hours to properly thaw after a few innings of ball in low temperatures and Wyoming wind. If any populace can relate to the need for shortening outdoor events it is the good people of Wyoming, yet that does not mean the bandwagon has shifted into high gear here. Oddly enough, more momentum can be seen in warmer climates than in the cold zone of Wyoming.
The movement was clear on Tuesday, June 1, when Carlos Pena of the Tampa Bay Rays was called out on strikes in the 9th inning of a tight contest against American League East rival Toronto. Pena was not ready for the strike that sent him to the bench because before the pitcher had started into his windup, Pena had requested a timeout.
Although an umpire is under no obligation to grant a timeout request, most of them do so most of the time, given that the hitter has asked before the pitcher begins a delivery to home plate. Not granting such a time out, based on the rationale of shortening the game, might shave 15 to 20 seconds off the total game time- tops. Refusing a hitter's request for a ninth inning time out is not a viable method to shorten games, but it is a symptom of overcontrol.
It has been customary- almost forever- to grant hitters a timeout if the batter does so early enough. Baseball, even in the brisk world of Wyoming, is played without a clock and at a leisurely pace that allows the game's strategy to unfold and tension to build. While many in contemporary America have developed a need for instant gratification in a rush-rush society- a.k.a, I want what I want when I want it and I want it NOW- many more still actually understand baseball and prefer America’s game to be played at a pace for which it was intended.
Luckily, the incident in the Toronto-Tampa game did not significantly alter the outcome since the Rays came from behind to win despite the hurried strike out while Pena was asking for time. Yet, the circumstance leaves fans wondering if crucial games are soon to be decided by such calls, or non-calls.
Aside from being a strategic ploy, a hitter asking for time may have a bug in his eye, a cramp in his hand, or merely a need to pass gas so that the otherwise natural act will not affect concentration. Hey, who wants a game decided by flying insects, muscle spasms, or flatulence, especially if a short break in the action would remedy a very short term crisis?
There are other ways to speed up America’s game that do not alter its outcome. The length of television timeouts between innings comes to mind, as does making people who make seven figures actually sprint on-and-off the field. These remedies, however, are evidently untouchables, making it easier to fixate on trivial time consumers. After all, if late-inning timeouts from the batter's box are no longer granted for hitters, then games may be shortened by as much as a minute.
In Wyoming, even when fans are shivering and their teeth are chattering, the game is most often played the way it was intended. Hitters may have a quick break from the greatest one-on-one match up in sports, pitchers can do the same with a break to use the resin bag, and managers can discuss strategy on mound visits.
Baseball fans who choose to attend a game in any state have already committed to the length of the game, or if it gets too long, they can leave when they choose. There are never chains on gates to hold fans in a ballpark against their will.
Maybe then, the rush to rush baseball to the point that detracts from the game should stop. In fact, it might be a far better idea to slow America down rather than hurry its pastime.