Once upon a time, I tried to explain baseball to a young man from France. This is not possible. You don’t learn about the game by being told the rules. It is not like football or basketball, hockey or soccer, lacrosse, or even polo, where the goal is to get the ball or puck down the rectangular field to a goal or net or whatever. The team playing defense tries to prevent this. The game is over when the clock runs out. There. Now you know all about it.
No, you learn about baseball by watching. For years. You learn screwball or knuckleball means what, on deck, a takeout slide, breaking ball, or change-up. You learn that, oddly; the defense has the ball and faces the offense one player at a time. And, the infield is not a rectangle, but a square, and is called a diamond. The outfield is of indeterminate size and shape.
The only way to score is by running around the diamond, touching all bases, and ending up safely at home. The ways to accomplish this are myriad and fascinating. In football, after each play, 22 men and various officials have to sort themselves out and get all lined up for the next play, which will last a few seconds. In baseball, each pitch is a play, and almost anything can happen: a strike, a ball, a passed ball, a single, double, triple, or a home run. Perchance the pitch hits the batter, he gets a free walk. If there are base-runners, there could be perhaps a double (or even a triple) play. A fly ball into the outfield often results in spectacular fielding. A bunt down the third-base line—a so-called squeeze play—might bring a base-runner home.
Strangely, some people believe that the game is “too slow.” MLB is trying to solve this by introducing “ghost runners” into the game by putting an unearned runner on second base in extra-inning games to, you know, speed things up. I call this an atrocity dreamed up by people who think baseball is “too slow,” but then conclude that baseball is a slow game. On October 4, 2014, I sat up half the night watching my Giants grind through 18 innings, finally defeating the Nats 2-1. Why would I want to speed that up? Every pitch, every fielding play was edge-of-the-seat excitement.
Many years ago, the American League adopted the designated hitter rule. The DH took some of the drama out of the dilemma of a great pitcher who can’t bat. Now they’re wanting to expand the DH to all of MLB, and pass out free doubles to extra-inning games to “speed things up.”
How can a game be called “too slow” when a pitcher is out there “throwing smoke” at 98 mph? When what looked like a home run is “pulled out of the sky” by an above-the-wall catch by a centerfielder? And when you see a shortstop leap up, turn in the air, and fire the ball to first before his feet return to Earth.
Baseball is unique. It is a thing we grow up with, which is why my French friend was baffled. Since the Civil War, it has been here. Baseball is different. But it is not slow. It is not boring. Baseball is to football and soccer and basketball as chess is to checkers. It is perfect. Please stop trying to improve it.
© 2022 by Dennis Carrigan
...stealing home against the Boston Braves in 1948--one of the most dare-devil and electrifying moves in all of baseball!