Play Ball!

Baseball, America’s pastime, has always been one of my favorite sports.  As a youngster I collected baseball cards and I remember watching  most of the games on TV and occasionally taking in a live game in Toronto.  Although the action was often slow,  there was never any worry about the clock.  One could arrive at a game in the 2nd inning and know that there was still the likelihood of more than two hours of action, and even the possibility of extra innings. I can remember one time when I stayed up to watch  a  seven-hour Mets game on TV that ended after 3 AM.   And then there was a double-header when I spent more than six hours at the ballpark.  There may have been a few runs scored, not much action, but just being outside in the open air with friends and family was liberating, calming and relaxing. It was perfect relief from the daily chaos of a hectic world that so often is governed by the ticking of the clock.

Watching a game without the clock restriction freed me from the notion of a deadline or pressure.  As a congregational rabbi I was always careful to begin services on time, and I always arrived at lifecycle events well in advance.  The clock and my watch were important in my work. I treasured Shabbat afternoons when I could take off my watch, read a book, relax, and even nap, without having to worry about time. 

Over the years, as the duration of baseball games lengthened (in theory there is infinite time to complete a game), discussion ensued about how to make games move more quickly.  In 1985 an average game lasted 2 hours and 39 minutes, while in 2021 the average game was 3 hours and 11 minutes. Over the past few years several changes have been introduced to shorten games , such as limiting the number of times a manager can visit the pitching mound, and starting an extra inning by automatically putting a man on second base. This seemed so odd to me.

This past week I read about the major changes intended to abbreviate games from now on:

  • Pitchers will have 15 seconds with the bases empty and 20 seconds with a runner on base to begin their motion. Batters not in the box by the 8 second mark will be assessed a strike.
  • A pitcher will be limited to two disengagements, such as a pickoff attempt or step-s off, per place appearance. A third will result in a balk.
  • Defensive shifts will be banned. All four infielders must have both feet on the infield direct or grass when the pitcher begins his motion.
  • Bases will be increased in size from 15 to 18 inches square.

Sports with countdown clocks such as football, basketball, and hockey constantly remind me of  how I perceive time when I have a deadline.   Although meeting a deadline is important,  relaxing without having to worry about time gives freedom to the soul.  Baseball is at a crossroads.  I have always loved baseball’s timeless magic and no doubt will continue to root for my favorite team. Only time will tell how these new innovations will be received and how the game will change.  One thing is for sure. Players will discover the umpire really means it when he says “Play Ball.”


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