Readers will have some sense of my age when I share that I can remember seeing the great Boston Celtic guard Bob Cousy “dribble out the clock.” Cousy was short, but he used his lack of height as an advantage as he led defenders on a merry chase for minutes — yes, minutes — to run out the clock. He was like a greased pig who couldn’t be caught, with this pig dribbling a basketball the entire time.
With the institution of the 24-second clock, the rulers of the game of basketball determined that we’ll never see the likes of Bob Cousy again. A skill that was as important to winning a basketball game as dunking was outlawed because his skill was deemed to slow the game too much and to be frustrating for fans to watch. But I can assure you that Cousy’s magic with a basketball at the end of a game wasn’t frustrating for Celtic fans.
Along with other fans, I’ve gotten used to the changes in the game of basketball. But then, basketball has always been a source of entertainment for me, not something sacred.
Recently, however, the need for speed has attacked the sacred game of baseball. Seeing slumping attendance at games and fewer viewers on TV, the baseball moguls decided that the problem with the sport is that it is too slow. In response, they have instituted two changes that they’re trying to sell as bringing the excitement back to baseball.
One change that was instituted in 2020 makes it almost impossible for a baseball game to last for 13 or 14 innings. Now, if a game is tied after nine innings, the 10th inning starts with a runner in scoring position on second base. I might be wrong, but I think that this is the first time that a baseball team has been given an advantage that it didn’t earn. For all of baseball’s long history, batters had to earn reaching second base, and that was a feat not easy to achieve. Now, when the 10th inning begins, we see a player on second who didn’t lift a bat to arrive there.
Yes, I know that the other team, for some sense of fairness, also begins its half of the 10th inning with a runner on second base, but isn’t that simply giving something unearned to both teams?
It is the other and more recent change to baseball, however, that I’m having a tougher time swallowing. This is the clock on the pitcher and batter. The pitcher now has only fifteen seconds between pitches to get the sign and deliver his next pitch. If the batter wants to call time-out, he must do this before the pitcher reaches eight seconds on the clock.
Owners of baseball teams report that fans like the changes. They haven’t asked this fan. The classic duel between pitcher and batter, psychological as much as physical, has been irrevocably changed, if not lost. Gone is the ability of the pitcher to shake off signs until he gets the pitch he wants. Gone is the ability of the batter to frustrate the pitcher by calling time-out just as the pitcher is beginning his windup.
Now, a baseball game’s length, once a minor point of interest to only a handful of fans, has been elevated as a statistic to celebrate as much as a batting average or ERA.
So, all fellow lovers of baseball, what changes could come next? Could the sacred numbers associated with the game of baseball be on the chopping block? If speed is the goal, why shouldn’t baseball be a game of eight, seven, or six innings instead of nine? Instead of three outs per inning, why not two? Instead of batters fouling off baseball after baseball while at bat, maybe they should be given only two foul balls.
I accept that I’m a curmudgeon when it comes to baseball, but the game had a rhythm to it — leisurely at times, frenetically fast at other times—that I loved. Now, sadly, baseball is just frenetic.
David Carlson of Franklin is a professor emeritus of philosophy and religion. Send comments to [email protected].