There are some kinks to work out, but I’m loving the impact these new rules are having on the game of baseball. The implementation of the pitch clock has stopped the incessant lollygagging by pitchers and hitters and has resulted in games more crisply played and shorter in duration. The banning of defensive shifts has led to an increase in base hits. Stolen bases are up dramatically, thanks to the enlarged bases and restrictions on the number of pickoff attempts.
The game has become less plodding and more action-packed — and that’s a wonderful development. I don’t know of anyone who goes to the ballpark in hopes of watching pitchers walk around the mound and take an eternity to deliver pitches. Or to see batters step out of the box and fidget a hundred times with their batting gloves, helmet and cup. We go to see these guys put the ball in play and display their athleticism. We go to watch them run the bases and make plays in the field.
Is it perfect? No. Will there continue to be some growing pains and tweaks needed? Yes.
Look, I’m a baseball traditionalist. I like it that the essence of the game hasn’t changed in more than a century. Constancy has always been one of baseball’s great appeals, especially in a world spinning so fast it’s difficult to keep up with it and make sense of it. But I’m not so much of a traditionalist that I’m stubbornly willing to stand by and watch the sport continue down the path to irrelevancy and extinction, like happened with other sports that refused to change.
I recently wrote a long feature for “Memories & Dreams,” the Baseball Hall of Fame’s history magazine, that explored the game’s evolution. Research reminded me that the National Pastime has not only marked the time but has constantly changed with it.
Interestingly, there has been a “pitch clock,” so to speak, on the books since 1901. There were rules requiring pitchers to throw the ball within a specified period of time or else be assessed a ball. For some reason, over time, it stopped being enforced, and games steadily lengthened from one hour, 47 minutes in 1920 to a ridiculous three hours and three minutes last season. And the amount of action decreased significantly in recent decades as fewer balls were put in play and analytics de-emphasized the running game and small ball in favor of the slugging game, which saw a spike in homers — and strikeouts.
Sure, we’ve only had a small sample size in this still very young Major League Baseball season, but the new rules have shaved nearly a half hour off last year’s times while also infusing more action. Given all the data compiled from the experimentation of these rules in the minors in recent years, there’s no reason to think this new trend won’t continue. Interestingly, the changes have taken the game back in time — to the early 1980s, when the rhythms and excitement captured more people’s fancies.
So, a doff of the cap to MLB for finally addressing a problem that festered way too long. So far, so great. Less has been more.
Kudos to Oak Hill Country Club for its decision to honor Jim Nantz as the 46th inductee into its Hill of Fame. The timing is perfect because CBS’s lead golf announcer will be in town to call the PGA Golf Championship at the famed East Course in Pittsford.
Nantz worked his 37th and final NCAA basketball tournament Monday night and is providing play-by-play at the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Ga., this week.
The Hill of Fame near Oak Hill’s picturesque 13th hole is a tradition unlike any other. The trees overlooking the green feature plaques of previous inductees — an august group that includes golf legends Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Nancy Lopez and Annika Sorenstam, as well as former U.S. President and golf addict Dwight D. Eisenhower. The classy Nantz will be a most-deserving addition.
Any questions about whether the University of Connecticut men’s basketball program is a blue blood were put to rest after the Huskies won their fifth title in 25 years Monday night. That is more than any other men’s program during that span, and now gives them more championships than any school other than UCLA (11), Kentucky (8) and North Carolina (6). Dan Hurley became the third UConn coach to contribute to that championship cluster, joining Jim Calhoun and Kevin Ollie at the top of the Huskies net-cutting ladder. UConn’s a blue blood. Case closed.
Those still holding misogynistic views that women’s sports can’t have wide-ranging appeal should check out the boffo television ratings from Sunday’s NCAA basketball championship game between Iowa and LSU. Nearly 10 million viewers tuned in, most ever for a women’s hoops contest. What’s even more telling is that more people watched that game than nine of the Thursday night NFL games last season. This truly was a seismic moment for women’s sports.
Good news for Syracuse fans weary of watching the Orange hoopsters play that antiquated 2-3 zone. Quotes from various recruits indicate they’ve been told by new SU Coach Adrian Autry and his assistants that the Cuse will be playing man-to-man defense and seek to be more up-tempo on offense.
The zone was great for a long time, confounding opponents and contributing to former coach Jim Boeheim’s long run of extraordinary success. But the game has changed and the zone isn’t nearly as effective in this era of basketball when guys can drill long three-point shots consistently.
I could still see the Orange employ the zone as a change of pace, but not as their primary defense. And I’m sure that will be welcome news for current and future players who’ve been playing man since their first pickup basketball games.
Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.m