Here we are in the dog days of July, when baseball grinds through the long middle section of the season. The freshness of opening day has faded, but the intensity of the pennant race has not yet arrived. So there are the long innings in front of TVs and radios, nightly rituals on porches, in yards, family rooms, tracking the home team's slow progress toward some reckoning in the fall when a larger meaning will clarify. In the meantime, we content ourselves with subtleties and nuances and the passage of time the game affords. Commissioner Giamatti talked about relying on baseball to do more of the work of filling his time as he grappled with the ghosts that haunt a middle aged man. Bart, this year I feel you.
Sports talk radio fills the infinite mid-season airtime with all manner of fanciful speculation around trades, minor league prospects and salary comparisons. And there is always a meta conversation about the health of the sport, a cottage industry offering up stats-driven proposals to fix the old game: The ball is juiced, too many homers, not enough homers, too many strikeouts, the pitchers are too dominant...lower the mound. Move the fences in or out...expand or shrink the postseason brackets, ban the infield shift, the strike zone is too high or low. This colloquy keeps talk radio in business as fans and esteemed reporters tinker and play god, offering up all sorts of gamification theories.
The arguments occur around predictable battle lines—purists versus innovators, tech-lovers versus ascetics.
Amid this ernest “problem solving,” what should be remembered is the grand old game has flexed through much over the years: times of war and peace, scandals that threatened to undermine its integrity. The game has survived the designated hitter, artificial turf, indoor domed stadiums, steroids, gambling, and instant replay umpiring. The world didn’t end when lights were installed at Wrigley. Don’t underestimate the endurance of the game and the spell it continues to cast.
Of late, the collective hand wringing has centered around baseball’s shrinking audience of young fans, who are being lured away by soccer, football, video gaming and a host of more thrilling pass times. A generational reckoning.
How to make it faster and more action packed? A zeitgeist of instant gratification, genre heroes and condensed plot arcs demands speed.
Not unlike a longstanding marriage, sports talkers brainstorm how to spice things up? How to be more attractive to generations of young, screen-addicted fans with ever smaller attention spans? How to make it faster and more action packed? A zeitgeist of instant gratification, genre heroes and condensed plot arcs demands speed.
In response, a few seasons ago the league installed clocks at field level to limit the time between innings, between batters and between pitches. Clocks! Really?
The lack of a clock has been the unique feature of the game, what makes it different from other games. The molasses pace allows for subterranean psychological workings...tic toc...the intellectualization of a child’s game. In this sense, a ball game isn't something that can be properly viewed from outside, but rather a vessel requiring you enter and settle in, a self-contained world of its own making best enjoyed when you are able to hunker down and travel slowly through the tunnel vision.
Allow this traditionalist an opportunity to mount the pulpit with a counter proposal, a purist’s last stand: instead of speeding up the game, we should slow it down. It’s too damn fast! That’s right, you heard me.
The fleeting transient world needs a refuge from speeding time. The quick-cut plot twists and twitter blurbs are exhausting. The self absorption is wearing us down, making us mentally ill. We are forever busying ourselves trying to get noticed, to win market share, to be at the center of it all, to be on trend and in the know...the latest band, the most tantalizing headlines, the most outrageous reality mavens—all the so-called “content” that must be processed through our overtaxed information filters.
The fleeting transient world needs a refuge from speeding time. The quick-cut plot twists and twitter blurbs are exhausting. The self absorption is wearing us down, making us mentally ill.
Remember the wisdom of the sages and philosophers, that we should enjoy the nuances and small moments—the batting glove readjustments between pitches, the side conferences, the walks to the mound. Hey, if the batter needs another moment, if the pitcher and catcher need to figure things out, we want them to get it right. Remember the words of Dr. Ruth, something about taking one's time with foreplay. Baseball is an ever so slow moving drama that all at once gives way to lightning fast decisive moments. The slower the middle parts the more delicious are the critical moments. This is the eternal genius that has held a nation in its sway for over a century.
The practical observer will weigh in with an accounting from the modern day-planner: who has three plus hours to devote to anything? Certainly not the people working multiple jobs, busy parents, students navigating the rigors of higher ed. Sure, I’ve got no answer for that. Baseball isn’t for everyone. I will say this, it’s ready-made for multi-tasking, for completing some menial digital function with one eye on the ballgame.
My traditionalism is cliched, and my proposal is a doomed bit of devil’s advocacy. Again the genius Giamatti: “Dame mutability never loses.” But still, can’t we just take a deep breath and hunker down and let the innings and the hours creep by? This evening, don’t let the game end so soon.