Maybe I’m mistaken, but you know what people typically don’t like? Change. Not a lot of groundswell out there saying, “Hey, you know what sucks? What we have. Let’s get a bunch of new things.”
Particularly when it comes to baseball. It’s a sport steeped more in nostalgia than the others. I actually called Jeff Passan about that last week after Brooks Robinson passed away. On Twitter, I shared a story about a foul ball and people’s reaction to it was a reminder that no sport connects us to our memories and our past like baseball.
Long Brooks Robinson story I believe I told on radio:
When the Orioles played in Memorial Stadium, the PA announcer was named Rex Barney. When a fan made a great catch of a foul ball, he’d say, “Give that fan a contract.” At a game with my dad and Brooks fouls off a pitch. Dad… pic.twitter.com/tdfrksoBAX
— Scott Van Pelt (@notthefakeSVP) September 26, 2023
That said, things change and nothing stays static. Clinging to the way things were by the gatekeepers of the game is often a bit much. Because not a soul was nostalgic about games that took three hours and 30 minutes when there are 162 of them in a season. Incredibly, in the two seasons prior to this one there were more than 600 nine-inning games that lasted 3:30 or more. When they put the clocks on pitchers and batters this season? There were nine.
On average, we saw the fastest games in almost 40 years. Interestingly, pitches per plate appearance didn’t change at all and there were actually more plate appearances per game. They just didn’t take as long because batters weren’t stepping out and fidgeting endlessly between pitches and pitchers just got the sign and got on with it.
In short, this game, which has those who demand it be played “the right way” — which is to say, the way they say, or else — was better with a pitch clock. Change improved it. What’s funny is, it often has. I’m psyched the Baltimore Orioles won 100 games this year and won the AL East, it’s awesome.
I’m old enough to remember 1980. They won 100 that year and didn’t make the playoffs. Younger people are wondering how the hell that’s possible. Well, it’s simple. The Yankees won 103 and if you didn’t win the division, you didn’t make the playoffs. There were two divisions. East and West. So … two playoff teams per league. Imagine that.
Now it’s a dozen. More playoff teams has been a win. Four wild-card teams have made it to the World Series in the past decade. Two have won it. Those are teams that would have been left out without the game evolving.
This latest evolution gives us shorter, crisper games — about as long as when I was a kid with rules that would have ensured my Orioles would have been a playoff team back then. I’d have liked that.
I also would have wondered why the Houston Astros were in the AL playoffs and the Milwaukee Brewers were in the NL. And I would have been baffled by who the Arizona Diamondbacks and Miami Marlins even were. But old me would just tell young me — it’s change, kid and it doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
Except that runner-on-second-base thing in extras? Now that’s dumb.