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Opinion: MLB Free Pass Walk Rule Won't Solve Anything

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The Daily News of Los Angeles

 


GLENDALE, Ariz. -- So you wanted to see a major league baseball game this year. Better get off the couch and get on the websites.

Now that thefour-pitch intentional walk is gone, the stampede to buy MLB tickets will be just like the Gold Rush.

Surely you're tired of hearing your neighbors say, "You know, if they would just do away with that four-pitch intentional walk, I'd be there every night. Because I love the freeways at 6:30, and $10 beers and getting my ears blown off by bad music."

The Guys In Charge have decided that baseball games are too slow and, this time, they're really going to do something.

By shaving the 45 seconds or so that it takes to put a guy on first, they're starting a revolution that will wean everyone off the video games and cellphones.

The NFL must be terrified.

Just for confirmation, let's hear from actual players.

Scott Van Slyke: "If you don't like watching baseball games, don't watch them. I think there's a problem with people who think it's a problem."

Kenley Jansen: "Games aren't too long. This is getting out of control. There's over 3million people coming to watch the Dodgers every year."

Why MLB is laboring to find an unnecessary solution to an imaginary crisis is not clear.

Maybe it's the advertisers. Maybe it's the constant urge to cater to themillenials,many of whom are rising at 5:30 a.m. to go to work and can't be expected to watch playoff games that drone past midnight.

"If they're worried about the attention spans, that's not going to get better, it's going to get worse," Van Slyke said. "How many people are we actually losing? People leave games for tons of reasons."

Attendance in 2016 was down by 6.3 million since the record year of 2007, according to BaseballReference.com. That is not insignificant.

But it was still the 11th highest volume in baseball history and the 13th best average crowd (30,131).

The slowest year on record is 2014when games dragged on to a three hour, sevenaverage. That was also MLB's seventh-best attendance year.

Thirty years ago the average crowd was 24,708. Games in that 1987 season were 20 minutes faster than in 2014.

People don't go to baseball games for two hours and leave. It's not youth soccer. The ballpark is, or should be, a destination.

"The people in charge are making it an issue," Van Slyke said. "If you start speeding it up, what are you going to do about the 60-to-80 group that's going to miss the nostalgia of sitting there for three hours and drinking beer and talking about it?"

But the automatic intentional walk is the most benign proposed change. The most insidious is the idea of putting a man on second base to begin extra innings.

"That's crazy," Jansen said. "I'm a reliever. I don't want to come in with a guy on base."

There are 20-second pitch clocks that are part of minor league culture, and they work. Batters could be forced to quit roaming around the box.

"But people loved to watch David Ortiz walk slowly up to the plate," Van Slyke said. "You're going to tell him he's got to get up there in just a few seconds?"

The obvious cure is to call strikes. Call them like the rule book says. Don't shrink the bottom of the zone. Raise the top line and leave the bottom line where it's supposed to be.

If you do that, walks will go down but so will strikeouts, because batters won't be taking until they fall behind 0-2.

Dead time will recede. (Speaking of that, Grateful Dead fans don't gripe about five-hour concerts).

And let's forget this movement to limit the number of relievers, or establish a minimum of hitters they face. Major league managers have to win games any way they can. They're not the ones who put 13 pitchers on a 25-man roster.

The games we all remember - Game 7 of last year's World Series, Game 6 of the 1986 Series, the 14-inning Dodgers-Giants game in September 2015, the four-homers-in-a-row game between L.A. and San Diego in 2006 - have all lasted beyond the desired expiration date.

They required major investment from player and fan. No one could run out the clock. You had to get the outs. People were persuaded to sit still.

There has to be room somewhere on earth for something like that.

"You're in a jam, you got to slow everything down," Jansen said. "You don't want to be speeding everything up. I don't understand this. It's a beautiful game."

mwhicker@scng.com @MWhicker03LANG on Twitter

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March 3, 2017
 
 
 

 

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