Life As We Know It: March 31, 2014

       ONE OF the great things about being a baseball fan is the ability to see so clearly what is wrong with the game. The owners, the players, and of course, the umpires, all have blurred vision. But those of us in the stands are blessed with 20-20.

       Fans know the game is too long. Fans understand that players are spoiled and paid obscene salaries, and that money rules everything. Somehow this awareness seems to evaporate when fans become baseball executives or worse, the Arbiter of All That Matters, the Commissioner.

       The game is simply too slow, and the dark suits don’t seem to care.

       Take the hitters. Please.

       There was a time when the batter who slowed the game down was the exception. Former major leaguer Mike Hargrove became known as the “human rain delay” for fidgeting after every pitch. Now everybody’s a Hargrove. A hitter will watch a pitch go by, then step out of the batter’s box, take a little stroll, readjust the Velcro on his batting gloves, tap the bat on his cleats, make sure his helmet is fitted properly, steal a quick look at the babes in the box seats, and only then, when he’s darned good and ready, step back in for the next pitch.

       I play senior baseball. I have swung and missed many times, and not once has the Velcro on my batting gloves come loose. Never has my helmet shifted position. Never have I felt the need to take a walk.

        I say get in there and hit.

        If I were the commissioner of baseball (and boy, what fan hasn’t said that?), I’d give up trying to shorten the game between innings. Television pays the bills and television has to sell stuff during the breaks. But I would instruct the umpires to tell the batter to forget the stalling between pitches. Give the batter five seconds after the ball is back in the pitcher’s hands. If he’s not ready, tell the pitcher to go ahead and throw.

        Same goes for pitchers who stand out there on the mound and stare in so long you wonder if they’ve hypnotized themselves. One major league pitcher drives me nuts. He has the same ritual before every pitch: He tugs on his cap. He lifts his arms over his head. He stares in for the sign. He pats the back of his head. He grabs his cap again. Then he stands there like a statue. That guy doesn’t want me as commissioner. Pitch the ball a little quicker or the ump calls a ball.

        I also worry about the introduction of instant replay this year. The motivation comes, as it always does, from an inescapable fact: human beings (umpires, despite some opinions to the contrary, qualify) make mistakes. The umps blow a call now and then, and the deep thinkers at the main office will go to video replays to help them out.

        I understand why baseball wants to get it right. But why slow the game down even more?

        Unlike the other major professional sports, baseball has no clock. A game continues until one team wins. In theory that could be forever. Unfortunately that’s what many of today’s major league games feel like, and I blame the hitters and the pitchers. Despite the jokes by me and others about umpires who need glasses, they get it right most of the time, and I don’t want to stop a game in progress to confirm it.

       I’m willing to give instant replay a chance thise season, but for the record, I’m skeptical. I think all it will show is that the umpires usually make the correct call.

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