Is there anything that better symbolizes everything that is wrong with America today than the proposal by Major League Baseball to change the rules so that extra innings start with a runner on second base?
The idea undercuts just about every virtue extolled by parents, teachers, philosophers, religious leaders — patience, industry, hard work, earned success, delayed gratification, respect for tradition.
It is, instead, a monument to character flaws such as impatience and laziness. It’s a kind of welfare giveaway for baseball players. They can now wind up on second base not by earning it — by, say, hitting a double, or getting a walk and then stealing second — but simply by being placed there by a baseball commissioner inexplicably eager for games to end as soon as possible after the ninth inning.
A sports columnist for the New York Daily News, Kristie Ackert, described the rule change as “radical.” It’s an apt description, not so much for how the change would affect the game, but for the political, cultural and philosophical outlook that it embodies. It’s a rule change for an America that reads 140-word tweets instead of 300-page books, that eats microwave dinners instead of slow food.
As a child, when I went to a baseball game, I always hoped for extra innings. They were a free bonus, an additional helping of something enjoyable, like an encore at a concert, or seconds at dinner.
The open-ended nature of extra-innings contests fueled both record books and literary imaginations. W.P. Kinsella’s novel “The Iowa Baseball Confederacy” was about a game that lasted more than 2,000 innings. The pro baseball record is 33, for a 1981 contest between minor league affiliates of the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles. That game inspired the book “Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball’s Longest Game,” by Dan Barry, a columnist for The New York Times.
I’m not the sort of Luddite baseball traditionalist who opposes the designated hitter or night baseball, or who wishes the players still wore heavy woolen uniforms. I’m open to other changes that would speed up games and get the fans, players, umpires and sportswriters home to bed at a reasonable time without changing the game to the point where extra-inning drama is unrecognizably different.
Yahoo! Sports quotes Major League Baseball’s “chief baseball officer,” Joe Torre, as advising skeptics to watch how the rule change plays out as it is tested this summer in rookie leagues, including the Gulf Coast League and the Arizona League. “Let’s see what it looks like,” Torre said.
Maybe it’ll be such a crowd pleaser that baseball decides to start every inning with runners on first, second and third bases. Football could follow suit by giving teams turns taking possession of the ball one yard from the goal line. More touchdowns would be more exciting, right? Basketball could speed things up by eliminating foul shots and just letting players dunk instead.
What if Major League Baseball’s just “get it over with” approach were extended to, say, the military, or medicine? What if army basic training, and residencies and fellowships for doctors, were speeded up to accommodate impatient recruits and trainees?
At least one law school did experiment with granting a degree after two years instead of three, and a three-year college career instead of four has been floated as a solution to the problem of excessive student debt and the high cost of higher education.
Education, national defense and health care matter more than a baseball game. But if the national pastime is supposed to teach us anything, it’s that shortcuts and gimmicks are no substitute for patience, tradition and hard work.
Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of “JFK: Conservative.” His column appears Sunday.