Put a clock in it

Look, I firmly believe in the rule that the best umpire is the one that you don’t notice, much like they way breathing and digestion is supposed to work. So I can’t abide by Joe West spouting off about the length of Yankees-Red Sox games. It’s all fine and dandy to say what you want when you retire, a la Ron Luciano, may he rest in peace, of The Umpire Strikes Back fame. But not while you’re still an active ump.

That said, the man has a valid point when he called the interminable length of Yankees-Red Sox games “a disgrace to baseball” and “pathetic and embarrassing” in a story in The (Bergen) Record. He’s correct, yet as the Daily News’ Hall of Fame columnist Bill Madden put it, “he just isn’t the one to be saying it.”

Other than Yankees-Red Sox fans — who, as God is my witness, deserve each other until the end of time in the worst possible way that could be defined — the fuck is a 9-inning ballgame doing lasting almost four hours? Don’t get me wrong: I like the leisurely pace of baseball. I love the way a game ebbs and flows, the way tension builds and subsides depending upon the critical pitcher-batter matchups. And I dig that baseball doesn’t have a clock.

Except that it once did. Sort of.

To quote Bill James, in one of his lengthy but worth-it essays in his 2001 book, The New Bill James Historical Abstract:

“Baseball’s poetic and lyrical celebrants are fond of pointing out that baseball is the only major team sport without a clock. What these people don’t understand is that, until about 1945, baseball did have a clock. It was called the sun. Baseball games, until the advent of night ball, had to be crisply played because they often didn’t start until late afternoon, and they had to be finished by sundown, and sundown then was an hour sooner than it is now.”

James goes on to advocate in favor of shortening the time between innings and limiting the number of mid-inning pitching changes (the latter he calls “something more like an obsession” for managers), among other ideas, but you’ll have to buy the 9-year-old, 1,000-plus-page book yourself (mine is well dog-eared) to read more. This time of year, I check it more often than now-gone BlackBerry.

Now, let me be clear: I am not advocating about adding a shot clock, or any sort of clock, to baseball. But, c’mon. Move the game along. The umps should be encouraged to do that. On top of that, if the managers and players don’t police themselves on this, then don’t bitch and moan when the Powers That Be in the Commissioner’s office come up with something stupid like adding a pitch clock behind home plate.


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