Opinion: Our national pastime, part II
Last week in this space, I bemoaned the changes that have occurred in baseball during my lifetime. Some new rules and practices have been made with the intention of “speeding up” the game. Others have been inaugurated in order to protect the multi-millionaire players. Yet, baseball is losing aficionados to curling, which many people find to be more exciting.
The changes began slowly, starting in 1969 with Curt Flood’s lawsuit. Since then, players under certain circumstances, are “free agents,” allowed to play for whatever team pays them the most money. Now, word on the basepath is that there’s a proposal to make the bases larger. The goal of this lunacy is to make it more enticing to steal, a practice that has declined in recent years. Here’s an auxiliary idea: when a batter gets on base and changes gloves, why not make the base-running glove longer, like a clown glove. But, make the glove slim so that it can slide under a tag.
Because evolutionary changes are occurring at a more rapid pace than in the past, let’s take them on the same track as digital technology. I think that within a few years we should be able to place tracking technology inside baseball bats. This, of course, will severely handicap pitchers. So, let’s also put a wiffle-ball texture on the outside of the baseball. This will allow pitchers to throw eight-foot curves and truly extraordinary knuckleballs.
Then, we mandate certain limitations to the tracking ability of the bat. We can expect more hits when the pitch is within a three-inch radius of the midpoint of the strike zone and the bat has been swung. However, if a pitch is between the rim of that radius and the limits of the strike zone and it is not hit by the bat, it will be a strike, according to the robotic umpire.
Also, there will be one specialized robot which will be equipped with a laser beam to pierce any beach ball that appears in the stands.
Many people fail to appreciate the importance of outfielders. But we can change that. Let’s place three large, cylindrical posts out there. One in each (left, center, right) field. These posts will be made of soft foam rubber so that players who run into them will not be hurt. Situating each halfway between the basepath and the outfield wall will require outfielders to develop a new strategy for policing batted balls that clear the infield. For example, a ball hit to left center might require the left fielder to run to the home-plate side of the post while the center fielder covers the area between the post and the wall.
That, alone, will add drama to the game, but we can do even more. Let’s rig each post with electronics. If a batted ball (which will have an embedded computer chip) hits a post, an LED torch above the post will light up, bells will go off, and a randomly-generated number will be displayed on the jumbotron. The person who has the ticket stub that matches the number will win dozens of products from the companies that sponsor the batter. And, this brings us to…
Why is it that NASCAR drivers are the only competitors who wear multiple logos of sponsoring companies? As player salaries continue to escalate, it seems only reasonable for owners to find some alternative method of assuring that their valuable players are able to drive only the most recent year’s Lamborghini. If owners had to shell out all the bucks, then ballpark tickets would be affordable only by people whose household income is in the top 10 percent.
The obvious alternative is sponsorship. General Mills, manufacturer of the “Breakfast of Champions,” should be a shoe-in. Also, because today’s fans seem to be less interested in the game and more interested in taking selfies at the ballpark or getting photos of their favorite players, smart phone manufacturers would certainly want to get their names on player uniforms. However, the range of potential sponsors will not be limited to corporations that have some link to the game, ballpark, or player. Golfer Arnold Palmer opened the door by being a spokesperson for 15 companies, including Rolex, Cadillac, Hertz, Coca-Cola, Pennzoil, and United Airlines.
Baseball, in my opinion, is already on the road to being sports’ Gong Show. Why not take it all the way. We can “manufacture” excitement with bells and whistles, stimulate fan enthusiasm with give-aways, and reward players with sponsor fees. Baseball will no longer be the pure sport that I grew up watching and playing, but it will appeal to the multitudes who have watched the TV “reality” show “Survivor” for more than two decades. I, however, will not be among them.
I already have blood-pressure issues, and I used up my entire vocabulary of “cuss words” when Dodger manager Dave Roberts pulled three-time Cy-Young-Award winning pitcher Clayton Kershaw from his potentially perfect game on April 13th.
To be transparent, I admit that I still watch Dodger games when I can get them on my cable system. But it annoys me to see the starting line-up change, sometimes weekly. I long for the days when PeeWee was always the lead-off batter, the Duke was in the “clean-up” spot, and the pitcher (even when Don Newcombe, who had three seasons when he hit above .300) was ninth.
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Jim Glynn is Professor Emeritus of Sociology. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.