Here I go again, down the road of melodrama and romantic subjects no one should write about, but I can’t help myself. I’m in a rage. I’m so damn mad I can’t even work up a spit. See, friends, the suited, perfumed, airy, pencil-necks who rule the game of baseball from their ivory towers, that weird crowd of bankers and lawyers and track-suited derelicts who sell the television contracts and wear heaps of body jewelry, in public, have decided to ruin baseball.
They are putting the game on the clock.
The beauty of baseball, for this fan, has always been its defiance of time. No clocks. Play until somebody wins. No ties. Game too long? Don’t care. 4 pitching changes in one half of an inning? Good, that’s the heart of the game. The batter takes forty seven minutes between each pitch to adjust his batting gloves? He’s a jerk-off and a narcissist, but I can live with it. Baseball exists–should exist–in a parallel universe where the concerns of psychotic clock chasers and time crunchers can go to hell.
At least it is supposed too.
This season MLB is continuing their incremental destruction of the game by putting managers on the clock. No more long, dramatic walks out to the mound to pat a pitcher on the butt and take his ball, no more group hugs on the rubber because the closer just loaded the bases and Billy Bob isn’t quite warmed up in the pen. Nope, that’s over. Now the manager has to run out there, say everything that is important really fast, and sprint back to the dugout. He will be timed. And that’s just the beginning. Down in AAA they have been experimenting with the idea of putting pitchers on a clock too, a big NASA style countdown clock hanging behind home plate and, no doubt, somewhere out in the power alleys. No more scratching, spitting, digging a fighting hole on the mound, shaking off signs, having a conference with the catcher, looking over your shoulder to make certain the shortstop isn’t asleep. Over. Just wind up and fire, because it will give the titheads at ESPN something else to grind up three hours of television in meaningless debate.
First, they stuck us with inter-league play, a tragedy, then instant replay, and now these geniuses have completely capitulated to the idea of timing the game. They are going to the clock, and they are going to hell.
I shouldn’t be surprised. Nothing is sacred anymore, and baseball purists like me are dinosaurs staring up at that weird, blooming light in the sky. We just can’t understand what is hurling toward us through space.
But I do know why they keep doing this stuff. I just don’t have to like it.
First, it trained a few generations of people to have no attention span, and then it went to work on the last game that actually demands an attention span, and an embrace of those things particularly human that don’t require the artificial pressure of time. All of this portends pure evil and ties in, somehow, to the popularity of Donald Trump and the “You are a poopyhead” debates we now enjoy for the right to lead the free world. A clock in baseball? The world is upside down and inside out.
A few years ago I had the privilege of playing adult league hardball, down in Santa Barbara. I played for the Santa Barbara Whalers, and it was the most fun I have had as an adult. Grown men begging for ice in the dugout (which my wife, attentive as always, would fetch from the nearest store), eating geedunk and Spitz and chewing tobacco and hollering from the benches for the opposing pitcher to quit on his lame curveball.
The league was solid, if old. We had geezers who blew their hamstrings running out an infield ground ball, guys who couldn’t pitch, strikeout artists and home run hitters who fixed your plumbing by day, and folks whose warmups lasted longer than a Yankees-Red Sox game in September. What brought us together was a love of pure hardball, real baseball, 9 on 9, and we played hard, and we played to win. The Whalers were mostly cops, a couple of start-up computer cats from Goleta, plumbers, construction guys, or lawyers. Our manager was a cop and a baseball fanatic to the very end. He will play baseball anywhere, from San Quentin to Cuba, and that is the definition of a fanatic.
I don’t hit for power. I’m a singles hitter all the way. But my brother played on this team too, and if you have never understood the power of baseball to inform and enrich the rights of brotherhood, then you have never understood the genius of George Carlin.
I had precious few games in that season, recovering from a car wreck and any number of personal tragedies, precious little time to play baseball with my younger brother–we were separated by too many years to ever play on the same teams as kids–but nothing can replace playing with him, not anything, not the honor of warming up with my kid brother who imitated batting stances with me on the lawn of our parents’ ranch in the high desert. Nothing can replace that chance. And he had become a good player, a grown man who hits for power, and could launch a ball 450 feet against shaky pitching without blinking an eye.
The important part is this: he was my brother, and nothing will ever be better in my life than getting a bloop single into left field, taking second on an error, and seeing my younger brother come up to bat. I knew what he could do, knew it in my bones. I’d known it for years. With a lead off second, I had nothing but confidence. And he had such insouciance. I’m a hack, a singles hitter who keeps making it to second base, but he is an athlete. And so watching him step into the box was a gospel moment for me, and it didn’t let me down.
Because in baseball, you just know.
And we had the baseball blessing, once, for him to drive a solid double against the fence, despite playing the game with a bum shoulder and bad knees, to drive that ball into the wall and send me, his older, hamstrung and difficult, brother, home. There is nothing as pure as that kind of baseball moment: hundreds of miles from your natural home town, playing ball on the same team against strangers, to get on base and to get sent home safely by your brother. Because in baseball, you can live that dream.
And so the chance to play on the same field, to share the diamond in a pastoral game without clocks, just brothers taking swings without the contrivances of the screeching world around us, as grown men, when his own children were just starting little league, drives straight into my marrow, like an iron bolt, and I will go to my death cherishing those precious few innings we shared on the field, bound by blood and something more, something our parents gave us: appreciation for a game that transcends the meaningless howls and jarring ticks of the hour and second hands of a meaningless, bothersome, and entirely bankrupt, clock.