The Sad Contradictions of the Baseball ‘Traditionalists’ | National Review

The Sad Contradictions of the Baseball ‘Traditionalists’ | National Review

Boston slugger Ted Williams heads for first base after hitting a ground ball in the 1st inning of the Yankees-Red Sox game in New York, September 6, 1960. (Bettmann /Getty Images)

My post last week on MLB rules changes engendered universal opposition around here. We had a yeasty argument about it on The Editors earlier this week. Just a couple of more points.

Obviously, the ghost runner is gimmicky. I think of it like the 3-on-3 overtime in the NHL or the starting-on-the-25 overtime in college football — a contrivance, but an entertaining one. The NHL and college football are physically demanding, hence the need to force a result, whereas baseball is only stupefyingly long and dull. But the ghost runner creates immediate interest — are you going to hit a grounder to the right side or try to bunt him over, and if you get him to third with fewer than two outs, can you manage to hit a sacrifice fly? (I’m a Yankees fan, so the answers were usually “no” and “no.”)

If baseball could pace itself more sanely and create some more action, this would be less of an issue. Which is why the pitch clock is so important. And this is where baseball “traditionalism” falls down. I used to call myself a baseball traditionalist until I realized what that meant was making excuses for changes in the game that were making it worse.

Let’s say baseball developed a culture where after every pitch, the hitter walked halfway up the third-base line and talked with the third-base coach. I’m talking after every pitch. The average length of the game might balloon by another 20 or 30 minutes (although maybe not by that much, since there’s already so much time-wasting).

The reaction of the baseball “traditionalist” would be to say, “Wow, what a wonderful thing! Talking to the third-base coach between every pitch — this is just how Abner Doubleday drew it up! I love these interminable player-coach conferences. Sure, they just started a couple of years ago, but they must be defended . . . because traditionalism.”

This is basically what’s happened with all the current, real time-wasting innovations. Check out the side-by-side videos of a pitch-clocked series of pitches in the minors and a series of pitches in the MLB in this story in the Athletic.

No rational person watching the two is going to say the MLB pace is better — unless you are such a George Springer fan that you enjoy watching him walk all the way around the catcher in a wide circle between pitches. A couple of years ago, I listened to and watched a bunch of old Yankees games, including an early TV broadcast of a World Series game at Ebbets Field. I guarantee you the pace of play in that 1950s classic is much closer to the pitch-clocked pace than the “let’s all walk around and stare and take deep breaths” contemporary pace of play. Of course, the pitch clock isn’t going to roll the clock back to that era in terms of timing (there are other delaying factors in the modern game), but it will mean a little less inaction.

So maybe I shouldn’t give up the label of baseball traditionalist. I’m a traditionalist — I want the pace of play of a couple of decades ago. I’m a traditionalist — I want to see more stolen bases again. I’m a traditionalist — I support the shift for Ted Williams, and Ted Williams only.

It’s the thoughtless innovators pretending that they are nostalgics who have brought baseball to this point.

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.