In baseball’s never-ending crusade to streamline this fuddy-duddy game, we now have automatic intentional walks. No need for the pitcher to throw four extra pitches. Just take your base and we’ll move on to the next hitter.
This maneuver will save several seconds once every 2 ½ games which is about how often intentional walks show up.
Each four-pitch walk consumed at least a minute’s worth of the game, time better used by batters adjusting wristbands and tapping dirt out of their cleats between pitches, and pitchers wondering around the mound between deliveries. Don’t worry. The Lords of Baseball will go after that stuff next year when commissioner Rob Manfred can impose his own time-saving maneuvers without agreement from the players association.
The union agreed on abandoning the four pitches needed for the intentional walk, though. Why bother with throwing the pitches? Just because one might sail wide of the catcher and wind up at the backstop allowing runners to advance? Just because a pitcher’s misstep might result in a balk and allow runners to advance? Just because the hitter might reach out and poke one of those wayward pitches for a hit? Just because the pitcher can cross up the hitter and strike him out the way Rollie Fingers did to Johnny Bench in the 1972 World Series?
Those are details, just details. We are only interested in the greater good and the time an automatic intentional walk will save.
Toronto catcher Russell Martin considered the new rule and offered an even better time-saver. Why not have home run hitters eliminate that long trip around the bases. Hit a home run and you return to the bench saving, oh, at least another minute. And if the batter is one of those guys who enjoys preening after hitting one and likes to Cadillac his way around the bases after a fancy bat flip, why then the time saved could be two minutes. And that could be even more if his excessive celebration of himself touches off a brawl.
How about eliminating bullpens and the long walk relief pitchers have to make to the mound? Let them warm up in the runway between the dugout and the clubhouse and they can get to the mound a lot faster. And if managers insist on using a half dozen pitchers in every game, that could be a substantial time-saver.
Then there is the element of protecting pitchers arms in this era of Tommy John surgery. Automatic intentional walks mean four fewer pitches thrown.
Some pitchers seem reluctant to do their job. Steve Trachsel used to walk around the mound between deliveries, look at the baseball for a moment, check the stands, then walk around a bit more, as if to say, “Nothing good can come of this.’’ One press box wag once shouted at him, “Throw the ball! Take a chance!’’
All of this time wasted adds up. And today’s fan demands action. You don’t see hockey players and basketball players and football players wasting time. They’re usually racing around at breakneck speed, while baseball players saunter around aimlessly using up all that valuable time.
So the automatic intentional walk will save a few seconds every so often but if baseball is really interested in a time-saver, we have an idea that will cut more than seconds or minutes spent at the ballpark. This one will save hours.
You set up a table at home plate with two chairs facing each other. The two managers sit down and play Strat-O-Matic Baseball. It’ll take a hour or so and then we can all go home.