The Cubs are playing their first Spring Training game of the 2011 season this afternoon. As I listen to the broadcast, Coco Crisp just hit a grand slam off Matt Garza to tie the game at 4. I love major league baseball and get excited about the season to come each year about this time.
A couple of weeks ago, I looked around the house for a baseball book to read and eventually picked one off the shelf that I bought at a used-book sale some years back: Veeck as in Wreck.
Bill Veeck is an interesting figure in the history of baseball having been owner/operator in Cleveland, with the St. Louis Browns, and finally with the Chicago White Sox. I don’t know that the history of professional baseball can completely be told without his story.
On page 255 of the 3rd printing I have in front of me, Veeck outlines some plans to “fix” baseball. Having always been a creative mind amongst other owners seeking to preserve the status quo, Veeck saw that professional football was gaining ground in popularity and that professional baseball needed to make changes to remain relevant and competitive for the affection of and entertainment dollars of the American public. In addition, he saw the game slowing and requiring longer time to complete games.
Here are his suggested changes:
1. The plate would be widened by 25 percent. This alone would put the swagger back into the pitchers’ stride and the sneer back on their lips. It would revolutionize the game of baseball, since it would force every hitter to accustom himself to a new strike zone and would give the pitcher the confidence to bite off good chunks of the plate.
2. Three balls would constitute a base on balls, and two strikes would be out. The four-ball, three-strike formula did not come down from M. Sinai. It only seems logical and right to us because we have become used to it. With the 3-2 count replaced by a 2-1 count, the balance would remain the same and a great deal of wasted time – pure fat – would be melted away.
3. A limit would be placed on the time permitted for throwing the ball around the infield after every out or, better still, the practice would be eliminated entirely. It is another one of those traditions which serve no useful purpose. If an infielder isn’t warmed up by the Fourth of July, when is he going to be?
4. The pitcher would be limited to one warm-up pitch at the start of every inning, instead of seven. One is ample. A pitcher who is worried about his arm stiffening up on a nippy day is perfectly entitled to wear his jacket between innings.
5. The intentional pass would be made automatic instead of having the pitcher go through the tiresome ritual of throwing four pitches.
6. The ball would be “slowed up”. I would not, however, try to speed up the game by discouraging players with legitimate beefs from arguing with the umpires. On the contrary, I would encourage bigger and better arguments by limiting the umpires’ powers to throw players out of the game. Oh, how I long for those dear, dead days when Frankie Frisch and George Magerkurth stood fang to jowl, eyes aflame and jugulars athrob. Part of the act? Sure. But also part of the action. I have always wandered around the stands, riling the fans up against the umpires and getting riled up myself. That’s part of the fun of the day, and part of the color and excitement of baseball.
I like the ideas. The games are entirely too long with games regularly lasting 4+ hours. Also, it’s quite obvious that the NFL has surpassed the MLB in popularity in America and did so years ago. The strike-shortened season of 1994 simply put the final nail in the coffin. Something must be done, yet Commissioner Bud Selig either has no power to make the necessary changes or is too tied to the rest of his fellow (or ex-fellow) owners that he is not objective. I tire of listening to his “successes” over the past years. While he may have made progress, he continues to lose ground and has not made enough progress. Surely he will retire soon, though there’s no promise that his replacement will be any improvement.
Veeck speaks similarly about Commissioner Ford Frick in the 1950’s and 60’s. I guess there have been problems for many years.
Nonetheless, the feel of spring is in the air, the boys in blue are throwing, swinging and stealing bases. All is good in the world and hope runs high.