Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
As the buds begin to pop out on our local trees, my winter-weary mind turns to the potentials of spring. Namely, baseball.
I’ve been a fan since I was just a wee lad, when I was lucky enough to attend St. Louis Cardinals games that must have featured (though I was too young to know it) Hall of Famers like Bob Gibson, Orlando Cepeda, Steve Carlton, and Lou Brock. I remember specific games later when Brock was still playing, as well as favorites of mine like Tim McCarver and Curt Flood, and though the ‘70s were a bust as far as postseason play was concerned, I maintained my enthusiasm long enough to be ready for the great ’82 season and the seven-game World Series my boys won after a 15-year drought. (And again for the 24-year drought until ‘06!)
More recently it’s been harder to keep up the rah-rah because of lineup changes that have me scratching my head and wondering if I’m rooting for the players or, like Seinfeld used to say, for the clothes. Some of my favorite Redbirds are gone now (David Freese, we hardly knew ye!), only to be replaced with a string of pasty white guys who all seem to hit .250 and talk like “Nuke” LaLoosh in Bull Durham. The addition of Dexter Fowler in the offseason might help.
But now that I’ve poked my nose up out of my burrow as spring training begins, I hear that the intentional walk is no more — at least not as we’ve come to know it. Starting this season, pitchers won’t have to throw the four ceremonial balls out of the strike zone. Instead, the manager will signal to the home plate umpire, “Put ‘im on!”
Yes, I’m a purist, and if the designated hitter ever comes to the National League, I’m done. Baseball will be dead to me. This isn’t quite that dire, but I’m still berserk with anger over this obsessive focus on the length of ballgames, which is what the new intentional walk rule is all about. MLB is upset because the average length of games went up by four minutes in ‘16. Four minutes! All the intentional walks in an average game might add up to that. Maybe. But in exchange, you’ve lost the time-tested ritual of the defense having to go through the humiliation of throwing those four pitches — and taking the chance that the hurler will screw up and throw one away or put it over the plate. There are clips of crazy things happening.
Even when doing an intentional walk to get to the hapless pitcher who’s up next, there’s a psychological value in throwing those pitches. It says, from the defensive pov, “Look what we’re doing to you. Depriving you of a chance to win the game!” Then the pitcher strikes out.
Baseball is a hundred and fifty years old. It was working just fine. Why can’t we stop futzing with it?