Sports

Stopwatches Have No Place At The Ballpark

Baseball’s new speed-up rules are now in effect and - sorry, that’s all the time we have for today’s column.

You wish.

Yes, while the game continues its de-evolution in the areas of labor relations, civic loyalty, avarice and Rob Dibble, its caretakers have resolved that business on the field of play must evolve more quickly.

Super. After robbing you of last summer’s pennant races, playoffs and World Series, spring training and 11 percent of this season, the Dullards of Baseball have made it their No. 1 priority not to negotiate a settlement with the players but to get you home in time to watch “20/20.”

And, in the meantime, give Darryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden more time away from the ballpark to discover leisure pursuits.

Now, sure, it couldn’t hurt to goose some games along a little - just as it couldn’t hurt umpires to call a strike a strike. Somehow, the letter-high fastballs that are the home run pitchof-choice for nine out of 10 hitters aren’t good enough to be strikes if the batter doesn’t swing.

Fewer balls, fewer walks, shorter innings. Of course, this might suggest that umpires may have been faulty in judgment over the years, so I’d better cut it out before Cowboy Joe West tosses me out of the press box.

So instead of giving the umps a pop quiz on the strike zone, baseball has given them stopwatches and yardsticks and told them:

Time between innings is now 2 minutes, 5 seconds and not 2:30 - unless games are being broadcast on The Baseball Network, in which case viewers deserve as long a break from Ron Fairly as can be reasonably justified;

Time allowed between pitches - when the bases are empty and the batter is in the box - is now 12 seconds and not 20;

Batters must remain within 3 feet of the box between pitches, and …

On the second trip to the mound, managers must signal a pitching change upon leaving the dugout and not stall away precious seconds jawing with the catcher and the doomed hurler about their golf games.

The guinea pigs for these adjustments were the Mariners and Indians, who opened their four-game series here Thursday night. Everybody else got the treatment on Friday.

The spirit of cooperation was remarkable. Friday’s game started at 7:35 sharp. Cleveland leadoff hitter Ruben Amaro lined the first pitch to the shortstop. And M’s manager Lou Piniella not only signalled his pitching changes promptly, he had reliever Bob Wells warming up by the time the No. 4 hitter stepped to the plate.

Still, a 6-5 game ran 3:07.

Oddly, Seattle’s 11-5 victory on Thursday - a game that “had 3:15 written all over it,” umpire Tim Tschida said - lasted just 2:51 with 20 more pitches than the following night. Perhaps Tschida has a shorter leash on batters than did Friday’s plate umpire, Ted Barrett.

But then there are lots of ways to shorten ballgames. Fans at Dodger Stadium have had the solution for years - leaving the park in the seventh inning.

I’m amazed, for instance, that baseball didn’t tackle the issue of spitting and scratching, which we all know accounts for roughly 2 hours of the action in any 3-hour game. Chewing tobacco has been outlawed in the minors, but the players association apparently has continued to take a hard line on it. Meanwhile, the issue of baby powder in the locker room and developments in cup technology, alas, remain on the back burner.

Also, why not just invoke batting cage etiquette on all hitters. In the cage - where players supposedly hone their strokes - routines are completely different than during regular at-bats. Never do you see a hitter in the cage hitching his belt, tugging at his sleeves, endlessly gripping and regripping his bat and gouging a hole halfway to China into the dirt.

And, hey, they hit everything thrown at them.

Frankly, there’s nothing all that wrong with the new regulations, except for the fact that it cuts down on your time to getting a beer and a brat and still get back to your seat before the next inning starts. But, hey, they’re doing this for you.

I especially like the rule about managers and pitching changes, though let’s amend it to read that in the case Bill Krueger starts for the M’s, Piniella must signal for a reliever as he’s pulling out of his driveway en route to the Kingdome.

A couple other suggestions: all rock and roll piped over the P.A. between innings must be played at 78 rpm. Also, Ken Burns must be banned from the game.

You’ll notice nobody thought the game needed speeding up until somebody made an 18-hour documentary about it.

, DataTimes



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