Sour Stuff Today …

Unless you are just returning to consciousness from a comatose state – – welcome back, by the way – – you must have heard/seen/read about the Charles Oakley incident at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday evening.  The whole thing was a mess and there appears to be no conclusive video evidence that would justify Oakley pushing and shoving security guards at the arena.  However, being that this happened in NYC and that it involves the Knicks and their owner, James Dolan, the simple and preferred way to deal with the situation was off the table from the outset.  There was a moment when – if all parties could just STFU – this mess could have receded into dim memory in about 2 hours.  But, no…

Oakley was arrested and charged with a bunch of stuff.  The Knicks’ PR staff issued a statement saying that the team hopes that Oakley “gets help soon”.  Players around the league and commentators in various cities have expressed contempt for the way the Knicks treated one of the franchise’s former star players.  All this could have been avoided but now it is out there and it will fester because one of the actors is James Dolan.

A former colleague at work was a graduate of West Point.  He would often say that every group or team of people benefited from having a “s[p]it magnet”.  That is a person who – whenever anything went wrong – attracted all the blame and accreted all the s[p]it that came as a result of the error.  My colleague used to say that the presence of this “magnet” allowed other team members to go about their business efficiently and effectively and that made the “magnet” a valuable member of the team.  When I asked him if he ever ran into those sorts of folks at West Point, he said that he had and he was glad to have them in his squad.

Among the NBA owners, James Dolan is a “s[p]it magnet”.  I doubt that he ever aspired to that status, but there he is…

Moving along to baseball – as pitchers and catchers are starting to pack up their gear to head to Spring Training – the Commish announced that baseball will propose a rule change to the MLBPA and will try out two other new rules in the low minor leagues.  The purpose here – nominally – is to increase the pace of play for games and/or to make the games more exciting.  Here they are:

  1. Intentional Walks:  No more four pitches to the catcher standing there with one arm out like a school crossing guard; the umpire simply waves the batter to first base.  Yes, this removes the possibility of a wild pitch that could dramatically change the game strategy.  No, that does not happen sufficiently frequently to matter.  By the way, I do not think intentional walks happen frequently enough that saving the 30 seconds that it takes to throw those four intentionally wide pitches matters very much.  Baseball purists may not like this but I don’t think this matters one way or the other.
  2. Raise the lower limit of the strike zone:  Instead of the lower limit being the “bottom of the knee” change it to the “top of the knee”.  The idea here is to make the pitcher put more pitches in the “hitting zone” with the intention of having more balls put in play making for more action/excitement.  I read a stat somewhere that 30% of the plate appearances last season resulted in a walk or a strikeout meaning 30% of the plate appearances did not put the ball in play.  If I were convinced that this was a problem that needed resolution, I would do it differently.   I would raise the upper limit of the strike zone and have the umpires call strikes on pitches as high as the armpits.  What that would do would be to get batters to swing at more pitches instead of waiting out the pitcher for every at bat.  But that is just me…
  3. Put a runner on second base to start each extra inning game:  The idea here is to make the extra innings more exciting and to avoid the “marathon games”.  MLB’s chief baseball officer, Joe Torre, said that it is not fun when a team has used up its pitching staff and has to bring in a utility infielder to pitch in “marathon games”.  Here is the problem and here is a hat-tip to the Washington Post for these data.  There just aren’t that many “marathon games”.  In 2016, 2,243 MLB games were played in 9 innings or less; 176 games were played in 10-14 innings; 8 games went 15-18 innings and 1 game took 19 innings to play.  Only 8% of the games went to extra innings and only 0.4% of the games could possibly be called “marathon games” (longer than 14 innings).  This is a solution desperately seeking a problem to resolve…

I would object to the new “extra inning rule experiment” on two grounds in addition to the fact that it would only come into effect a few times a year for most teams.  First, it gives an even bigger advantage to the home team – batting last – if the visitors do not score in the top half of an extra inning.  They would start with a man on second and can bunt him to third base and win with a sac fly.  That does not add loads of excitement to the game but it does provide an added home-team advantage.

My other objection is parallel to my dislike for the way the NHL and the FIFA World Cup games resolve ties.  The shoot-out is a different game than the one that led to the tie situation in the first place.  Reverse the process and you will see how dumb this is.  Imagine that the sport of hockey or soccer consisted of a whole bunch of penalty shots/penalty kicks and at the end of that competition, the score was tied.  How dumb would it be for the teams now to resort to playing hockey or soccer as we know it to resolve the tie?

The baseball game that produced the tie situation at the end of 9 innings did not involve starting each half-inning with a runner on second base.  So, why should the winner of that game come from this newly imposed game situation?  I will not go so far as calling this idea a “crime against humanity” but it is about as useful as the reinvention of the flat tire.

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times about long baseball games:

“A report says that, 180 million years from now, the pull of the moon’s gravity will make days on Earth 25 hours long.

“And MLB games will be 6½ hours long.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



12 thoughts on “Sour Stuff Today …”

  1. If they really wanted to shorten baseball games, they would have relief pitchers, who have already thrown a dozen or more pitches in the bullpen, throw one pitch to get a feel for the mound and then batter up.

  2. Waving the batter to first base for an intentional walk is a good idea. Easy to implement, not much gain but almost nothing lost. It has been done in lower levels of baseball for many years.

    Changing the strike zone would likely be disastrous as habit-bound umpires grapple with the new rule for years to come. And that’s not to mention the impact on all levels of baseball below pro ball which would have to change their zones to be consistent with the pro book.

    The runner on second in extra innings is clever, but it is too big a change for baseball. They would never be able to bring themselves to implement a change as gimmicky as this.

    Limit visits to the mound (including catchers and infielders); put pitchers on the clock; enforce the rules about batters staying in the box; maybe limit the number of pitching changes that can be made during a nine inning game. These are the best ways to keep the game moving.

    1. I agree with you on a lot of this. Much of the delay causes (especially regarding pitching changes) have to do with the Sabermetric-style matchups. In olden days a reliever came in when someone was getting knocked around / tiring out / injured, and many of Fingers’ and Suter’s saves were of the three-inning variety. Now we have the LH specialist, RH specialist, ground ball specialist, etc., and if memory serves we also had not that long ago pitchers kept in the league because they were proven Bonds-killers (during that time Barry Bonds set and will likely own the record for intentional walks for all time). Why? Because winning is now a short-term goal not a season-long one. Owners have itchy fingers on the trigger, which may make sense due to the need to pay off the debt on the new digs they have. Also, IIRC every MLB game and many minor league ones are televised somewhere, and that perforce means ads and stoppages for TV. Follow the money for why. It all adds up.

      With that said, I never have considered it reasonable for baseball to be constrained by time limits, it’s event based and if a team is down by 100 runs with two outs and two strikes in the 9th, they still have a (wretchedly infinitesimal) chance to win. It’s what sets baseball apart from other sports, you can’t run out the clock to avoid playing the game.

      I would do these limits lightly, for example after a visit to the mound by anyone (player or manager / coach) you must face a batter before time is granted for another one. The batter box rule would be similarly set, one step-out per AB. I’m not a fan of the pitcher’s clock (pitching is more than just throwing) but something like 30-40 seconds after return of the ball from play (and one walk-around only per AB) after which a “ball” is recorded unless time is called for injury will at least put a cap on time-wasting. 3 pitches, not just one for warmup, although the hitters may be unhappy since this is a free chance to see what the stuff looks like before digging in.

      1. rugger9:

        Your first point about all the pitching specialists adds a lot of time to a game – and it is not time with any real action for fans to focus on. That is why I would prefer to see a rule making each relief pitcher face a minimum of 3 batters.

    2. The other way is not going to fly with the players: reduce the day’s rosters so the team that is there must play. Players could be on the bench for injury replacement and extra innings beyond 12.

    3. Gil:

      I agree with all of your suggestions except limiting the number of pitching changes. My suggestion along those lines is that any pitcher brought into a game must face a minimum of 3 batters. That would go a long way in terms of preventing the inning with 4 or 5 pitching changes…

  3. Hey Curmudge. I strongly disagree with your conflating soccer and hockey at the highest levels (soccer with the World Cup and hockey with the Stanley Cup). During the regular season NHL games do indeed go to extra time and then a shootout. I don’t happen to agree with that since I think a tie is a reasonable result to a game but a lot of fans find shootouts entertaining. But in the playoffs they play until someone scores no matter how many periods it takes. As opposed to soccer which can decide the World Cup winner by penalty kicks — a process I find abhorrent.

    1. Bones:

      We agree far more than we disagree here. Yes, shootouts – and penalty kicks to a lesser degree – are entertaining but they are not the same game that got the teams to the situation at hand. That is my objection – not the entertainment value. By the way, I too have no difficulty with having tie games as the outcome for anything other than playoffs where you need a definite winner to move on or to win the final championship.

  4. Dolan is a spithead. He’s the East Coast Jed York – running a team bought with Daddy’s (Mommy’s) money.

    Baseball – throw the ball. Walks and Ks are OK, plenty of guys are swinging for the fences all the time, that will usually increase Ks a lot unless you are DiMaggio or Ted Klu. Don’t step off the mound, or out of the box. They have a 12 second rule already they don’t use… the one that bugs me the most? Guys who have to readjust their batting gloves and sweatbands after TAKING a pitch….

    Hey Joe, maybe those utility infielders end up pitching because the managers overmanaged their bullpens. Like they did in that Allstar game they called a tie? Who managed that one, Joe?

    Hockey? Play 10 minutes OT like they used to before they stopped it for travel restrictions in WWII. Still tied? It’s a tie. Not good, but regular season can have some. The shootout is a travesty – you take so much defense out of the game! I could have Larry Robinson, Chris Chelios and Scott Stevens on my D corps and they do me no good in a shootout.. one of the strongest points of my team negated…

    1. Ed:

      1. Agree Dolan is a s[p]ithead.

      2. There are definitely time savings to be had with batters as well as pitchers.

      3. My suggestion that a relief pitcher must face a minimum of 3 batters would tend to reduce overmanaging. And, overmanaging is rampant in MLB today. Bob Ryan attributes it all to Tony LaRussa and decries the “LaRussa-fication of baseball”.

      4. I like your hockey idea for the regular season. The outcome of the game is determined by hockey and not a shootout.

    2. I’ll agree about hockey, OT and ties are OK afterward. What makes the regular season different from the playoffs here is that typically the next game is against a different team, and it’s an unfair advantage for the team that wasn’t subjected to a 2-OT thriller the night before even if no travel was involved. In the playoffs, the next team is the same one that went through what you did (unless you finished them off, in which case there is usually a couple of days to the next game) and these are knockout rounds so a victor must be determined.

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