Picked-up pieces while brushing my teeth in less than 20 seconds …
▪ We love baseball. But baseball has not loved us back in recent decades.
The game we grew up with became unrecognizable as MLB asked fans to endure interminable stretches of non-action and abject indifference. We had pitchers who would not throw the ball and hitters who would not step into the batter’s box. None of the players seemed aware that they’d brought a once-great game to a standstill.
Now everything has changed. We have a pitch clock, mandating action. To avoid being assessed an automatic ball, pitchers have 20 seconds to throw a pitch (15 if the bases are empty). To avoid an automatic strike, batters need to be in the box, ready to swing, with eight seconds left on the clock. Spring games are being played an average of 26 minutes faster. With more action.
In the opinion of this fan, a pitch timer to assure a reasonable pace of play ranks as one of the three most important baseball changes of the last 100 years, trailing only Jackie Robinson integrating the game in 1947 and Camden Yards (1992) changing the way ballparks are built.
It’s unfortunate that a return to normalcy had to be legislated into the sport, but — artificial or organic — this change might make the game great again. Fewer walks. Fewer strikeouts (it’s harder to gear up for throwing 105 miles per hour when you have to throw another one in a few seconds). More offense. Defenders on their toes. More action on the basepaths.
Former Red Sox boy wonder general manager Theo Epstein, who was hired by commissioner Rob Manfred to address “on-field matters,” is happy with what we are seeing in spring training and predicts that it’s only going to get better.
“The idea is to give fans more of what they like and less of what they don’t like,” said Epstein, the architect of curse-busting championship teams in Boston and Chicago. “We did an extensive outreach program with focus groups and surveys and interviews, and there was a lot of consensus among fans that what they wanted to see was a faster pace of play, more athleticism on the field and on the bases, more balls in play, and more action overall.
“What they don’t like is dead time and inaction, things like pitching changes, mound visits, pitchers walking around the mound instead of getting on the rubber, hitters stepping out of the box before every pitch. It was clear that one thing we had to address was pace of play.
“There’ve been efforts over the years, with rules, but they were difficult to enforce. It just didn’t work, and year after year the game got slower and slower with more dead time, almost to the point when it was unrecognizable in its pace from the game we grew up knowing.”
So now there is a pitch clock. And baseball is using spring training to work things out.
“We saw in the minors that there is about a three- or four-week adjustment period,” said Epstein. “After the fourth week, we got down to consistently averaging one violation per two games from both teams combined. So your team, on average, would suffer an automatic ball or strike only once every four games. Players can adjust to this.”
The game is faster. Better. And Epstein believes the pitch timer eventually will fold into the action seamlessly, like the 24-second clock in basketball.
“Over time, we’re not going to come home from games even having realized there was a pitch timer,” he said, “but we’re all going to enjoy the better pace of play and less time between action and the restoration of the beautiful version of the game we all enjoyed growing up.
“This is really going to underscore how far the pace of play had gotten away from all of us. I don’t think any of us really realized. Go watch a spring training game and then go back and watch a game from the 1975 World Series on YouTube and the pace is almost identical.”
Manfred gets some credit for this one.
▪ Quiz: Name the eight players who scored 70 or more points in a single NBA game (answer below).
▪ The passing of Don Shane, a 70-year-old local sports television legend in Detroit, brought to mind Shane’s wonderful tenure here at former sports powerhouse WBZ-TV during the 1980s. On Oct. 6, 1986 — 19 days before the fateful Game 6 of the Red Sox-Mets World Series — Shane interviewed Bill Buckner at Fenway the day before Game 1 of the epic Sox-Angels ALCS.
After about five minutes of Q&A about the pressures of postseason play, Buckner wrapped things up for Shane with this: “The dreams are that you’re going to have a great series and win. The nightmares are that you’re going to let the winning run score on a ground ball through your legs. Those things happen, you know. I think a lot of it is just fate.”
▪ The four longest-tenured Red Sox are Ryan Brasier, Rafael Devers, Chris Sale, and Alex Verdugo. Memo to Sox bosses: This is not a model for building a fan base.
▪ Is roster maturity going to be the greatest obstacle in the Celtics’ quest for Flag 18? Count this typist as one who is amazed at the vigilant defense of Jayson Tatum by soft fans who keep telling me how “young” he is. Sorry. Tatum turned 25 Friday. This is his sixth year in the league — longer than the average NBA career. “Young” is weak sauce in any defense of this superstar.
▪ New York Times reporter and yahoo Patriots fan David Waldstein (raised in North Cambridge, BB&N grad) went to Kladno, Czech Republic, to report on 51-year-old Jaromir Jagr playing his 35th consecutive season of professional hockey. Jagr, still the second-leading scorer in NHL history, is a player/owner of the Kladno Knights. He still wears No. 68 to remind folks of the year the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia.
▪ Pitcher Kyle Hendricks is the last member of the 2016 World Series-winning Cubs who is still with the team. The Cubs added Dansby Swanson (Downton Abbey’s favorite shortstop), Cody Bellinger, Trey Mancini, Tucker Barnhart, and Eric Hosmer during the winter. Chaim Bloom had better hope Triston Casas has a better year than Hosmer, who was dumped even though the Padres were paying just about all of his salary.
▪ Speaking of Swanson, he is married to Mallory Pugh, the youngest American woman to score a soccer goal in the Olympics. She currently plays for the Chicago Red Stars of the NWSL. Meanwhile, Jordyn Huitema, who won Olympic gold with Canada and currently plays for the Seattle Reign, is dating superstar Mariners center fielder Julio Rodriguez. The trend, of course, was started by Nomar Garciaparra, who married Mia Hamm in 2003.
▪ The Astros have ended four of the Yankees’ last eight seasons, including last year’s ALCS sweep. Including postseason, the 2022 Yankees finished 38-41 after starting 64-28.
▪ Raise your hand if you know that the Sacramento Kings are the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. “We’re having a great season and we’re under the radar,” says Dustin Pedroia, the only Kings fan I’ve ever met.
▪ A team of New York first responders last week traveled to Africatown, Ala., hometown of former Mets World Series star Cleon Jones. Mets owner Steve Cohen is behind the push to help rebuild homes in the neighborhood where the last slave ship arrived in America in 1860.
Now 80, Jones heads the Last Out Community Foundation in Africatown. Jones caught the final out of the Mets’ 1969 World Series miracle victory over the Orioles.
▪ This is Year 31 of the coveted “Chairman’s Cup” (formerly known as the Mayor’s Cup) in which the Red Sox and Twins vie for Fort Myers supremacy. The series stands at 14-14-2, but the Sox got off to a good start this year with Monday’s victory over the Twins. Not sure why it is the Chairman’s Cup, but rest assured it has nothing to do with Chairman Mao nor Chairman Tom Werner.
▪ Here’s what Ken Dryden had to say this past week when he was reminded of his fine work stopping the 1971 Bruins (5.2 goals per game during the regular season) in the first round of the playoffs: “I don’t think they were complacent, but to win you have to have a good constructive fear of losing, and they didn’t.”
▪ Readers of this space absorb a steady diet of old-school storytelling (like the ‘71 Bruins), and one of the bonuses of those tales is the Globe’s rich vault of sports photographs. The work of the great Frank O’Brien, who retired 22 years ago after 43 years shooting sports for us, still appears on our site and in print regularly.
Some of O’Brien’s shots were featured with this past week’s ‘71 Bruins collapse column, but my all-time favorite O’Brien photo is the one he got of Larry Bird with Red Auerbach’s cigar after the Celtics beat the Rockets for the championship in 1981.
▪ The death of pole vaulter Bob Richards at the age of 97 resonated with a lot of Baby Boomer sports fans who remember the two-time Olympic gold-medal winner as the first athlete to grace a Wheaties box in 1958.
▪ Quiz answer: Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain (six times), David Thompson, David Robinson, Kobe Bryant, Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell, Damian Lillard.