about that pitch clock

We have baseball! Terry and I are both happy about that. Spring training games began this past weekend, and that is a Good Thing.

The game looks noticeably different this year, or so it seems at first glance. I wrote about the rule changes for 2023, but the most obvious is the pitch clock. There is now a thirty-second timer between batters and a fifteen-second timer between pitches, or twenty seconds if runners are on base. If a pitcher does not start his motion within that time the batter gets an automatic ball called. The batter must be in the box and alert to the pitcher at the eight second mark or the umpire calls a strike against him.

The Dodgers played their first exhibition game on the road Saturday against the Brewers. Due to the setup at the Brewers stadium they couldn’t show the pitch clock as part of the data on the screen. But back home at Camelback Ranch on Sunday the pitch clock was ubiquitous.

baseball pitch clockDoes the pitch clock speed up the game? Apparently so. Saturday’s Dodger game came in at two hours and twenty-one minutes. On Sunday, when the Dodgers had eleven walks the game was just under three hours. Sunday’s Angels game was over in two hours and thirty-six minutes. In the past it was rare for a game to run less than three hours.

Certainly the players need to get used to the new system. In Sunday’s Dodger game there were two pitch clock violations early in the game: one by a hitter, the other by a pitcher. Things settled down after that. But the weird event was in Saturday’s Atlanta-Boston game. It was the bottom of the ninth, there were two outs and a full count. The batter was called on a pitch clock violation, which meant an automatic strike and the end of the game.

As Dodger color commentator Rick Monday kept pointing out during Sunday’s game, baseball has always changed and evolved. He described how the strike zone has changed drastically. It is much smaller today than it was fifty years ago.

It will probably take the entire season to determine whether the pitch clock is taking things just a little too far. Right now I’m undecided.

new baseball rules for 2023 (and other musings)

Baseball is instituting several new rules for the 2023 season. I wrote about them before the 2022 season when they were just proposals, but now that they are official and set in stone I thought they were worth revisiting. I thank Jorge Castillo for his article on the topic in the Los Angeles Times last week.

  • Pitch clock. I’m not sure how I feel about this. It may be OK, but it depends in part on whether the clock will be visible to the television viewer. I’ve seen this in women’s college softball and found it distracting. Still, I regularly watch women’s college basketball where the shot clock is an integral part of the game (as it is in all of basketball). So perhaps it will be all right.
  • baseballPickoff limit. This is a limit on the number of times a pitcher can throw to first when a runner is on base. Castillo says this is tied to the pitch clock. I think this makes sense. It should help speed up the game.
  • Ban on the shift. I like this one. What in the hell is the third baseman doing over there between first and second base? Let’s ensure that the players play their positions.
  • Larger base size. The idea is to make it easier for the baserunner to steal a base. To me this removes some of the finesse from the game. Baseball needs finesse.

As a Dodger fan, I suppose I need to comment on Trevor Bauer, the elephant in the room. My take: Do not bring him back. Do not even think about it. End of discussion.

Dodgers pitchers and catchers report on February 13 or 15, depending on whether or not they are participating in the World Baseball Classic (WBC). I am counting the days. Speaking of the WBC, don’t get me started on that. I hate it. It distracts from spring training and team cohesion. Opinions differ, but I believe it can have lingering effects into the regular season.

What’s important, however, is that we have a full season of baseball in 2023. I’m looking forward to that.

Dodgers winter blues

Like most Los Angeles Dodgers fans, I was delighted with the team’s 111 regular season win record in 2022. And also, like most Dodger fans, I was disappointed, ticked off in fact, at their collapse in the division series. The team certainly didn’t seem engaged or have any sense of urgency in that series.

So after that loss we looked forward to the 2023 season and the moves that president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and Dodger management would make during the off season.

Or not.

Yes, they did re-sign Clayton Kershaw. That was good. But they let Trea Turner get away. And they failed to exercise the club option on Justin Turner. They could have signed him to a contract at a lower salary, but they did not seem inclined to do so. Instead, they awarded a one-year contract to former Boston Red Sox designated hitter J. D. Martinez. Say what? And Justin Turner? He signed a two-year deal with Boston. The teams essentially swapped designated hitters. That makes no sense.

So where does that leave the Dodgers? Not exactly looking like they will cruise to a National League West championship in 2023.

We will be there. We will watch. But we will not be happy with management.

baseball rule changes for 2023

On Friday major league baseball made some expected rule changes official for 2023, for the most part over the objections of the players. I wrote about these when the lockout ended, but since they’re official now I thought it worth revisiting.

  • baseballThe pitch clock. I’ve seen this in other forms of the game, for example, in women’s softball. Obviously it has been tested in minor league games, but I haven’t had the opportunity to watch any of those. When I did see it, I found it annoying and distracting. And there’s all kinds of fine print as to when it is reset, when it is suspended, and so forth. I think it’s adding an unnecessary layer of complexity.
  • Increased base size. Base sizes will increase from fifteen to eighteen inches square. I don’t really like the idea, but if it helps reduce injuries (that’s debatable) perhaps it’s not so bad.
  • A ban on the shift. I like this one. When the pitcher throws the ball the infielders must be on the dirt, two on each side of second base. The idea of the third baseman playing on the grass between first and second base is just goofy.

These changes don’t fundamentally alter the nature of the game, but they do make it more complex and they add to the number of rules the umpires have to know. I’m not sure the result will be worth the implementation.

Vin Scully

I grew up with Vin Scully. When the Dodgers played their first game in Los Angeles in 1958 I was four years old. The Dodgers signed on with the fifty thousand watt clear channel station KFI 640 to broadcast their games on the radio. So even though we were in Hemet, ninety miles east of Los Angeles, the games came in loud and clear. I learned about baseball from my dad and from Vin Scully. (Vin and my dad were close to the same age. Vin was just a year older, minus a week.)

Vin ScullyWe spent three years in Barstow in the San Bernardino County high desert from 1960 to 1963, my first through fourth grade years. We relied on cable for our television (when cable carried only broadcast stations for the benefit of people in remote areas), and we couldn’t get all the television stations that we got over the air in Hemet. But the KFI radio signal was strong and we had no worries about missing out on Vin calling Dodger games.

After our return to Hemet Dodger baseball was a regular part of our lives in the spring and summer. There were a few games on television but we mostly relied on the radio to hear Vin and his broadcast partner Jerry Doggett give us the play-by-play. We had a table-top radio in the kitchen, on top of the refrigerator, but this was when transistor radios were first coming into vogue and my dad would go about his tasks on a Saturday with one in his shirt pocket listening to the games.

Sandy Koufax threw his perfect game on September 9, 1965. The whole family was in the living room and the television was off. As it became clear what was happening, we hung on to Vin’s every word and were right there until the final out.

When I was growing up our family attended one game at Dodger Stadium. I was as interested in looking at the broadcast booth trying to catch a glimpse of Vin as I was in watching the game on the field.

I left California in 1977 and spent 1978 to 1985 in Central Oklahoma. I have never been a big football fan, but in those days Vin broadcast professional football for NBC. I would watch a football game just to hear Vin’s voice.

In the Bay Area, where I moved in 1985 and where Terry joined me in 1993, I became something of a San Francisco Giants fan. Terry and I rented a house in Mountain View before we bought our home in Gilroy. There was a lot of foliage in the yard and I found doing yard work a pleasant chore when I could listen to Hank Greenwald call a Giants game. But on our visits to Southern California (where we both had family) we tuned in to Vin when we could. On one trip we were staying at the Town Place Suites (as it was then called) in Anaheim. We had our In-n-Out burgers, a bottle of wine, a hot tub, and Vin announcing a Dodger game on television. We both decided that life didn’t get much better than that.

Giants fandom was a short-lived. When Terry and I moved to Hemet in 2015 we rediscovered the Dodger blue in our veins. For our television, telephone, and internet we selected (what was then) Verizon, even though the Dodger games were only on (what was then) Time-Warner Cable, just because TWC had such a bad reputation. Vin had by that time gone mostly to television, and he was only doing home games. But the first three innings of the games he did were always a simulcast, so we got to hear him regularly on the radio.

Vin’s final season before retirement was 2016. By this time Spectrum had bought Time Warner Cable and allowed KTLA Channel 5 to carry his last few games. So we got to see his final home game at Dodger stadium and the last broadcast of his career in San Francisco.

It was quite the ride, Vin, and we love you for it.

Rest in peace and rise in glory.

photo credit: Floatjon. cropped. Creative Commons License 3.0.

we have baseball!

I am delighted that the baseball impasse is behind us. I wasn’t sure what I would have done for diversion and escape from all the ills of the world after the NCAA Women’s tournament had ended. Go Stanford women! (Who are the #1 seed in the Spokane region.) But we will have baseball after all. That is a Good Thing.

Some of the coming changes, however, I am not sure that I like. Bob Nightingale, who writes about baseball for USA Today, wrote on Twitter:

Traditional baseball is also back:
No more ghost runners in extra innings.
No more 7-inning doubleheaders

He’s right about the two specifics, but I’m not sure that I agree with him that traditional baseball is back.

baseballFirst, we now have the designated hitter in the National League. Please, no. Say it ain’t so, Joe. But there it is. The DH makes the game simpler and eliminates a lot of the strategy that has long made the National League game more interesting than its American League counterpart. But then it also provides employment for aging hitters who are no longer as agile on defense as they once were.

There will now be twelve teams in the playoffs. I’m indifferent to that.

Ads are allowed on jerseys and helmets. Not a good thing.

One more rule change: A player can be optioned to the minors only five times during the season. Beyond that they would have to clear waivers. That makes sense. Last year the Dodgers made so many roster moves that they could have set up a regularly scheduled shuttle back and forth to their Triple A affiliate in Oklahoma City.

Bigger changes are possible for 2023. A committee made up of four active players, six members appointed by MLB, and one umpire will consider several changes. (Which means, effectively, that MLB can impose any of the changes since they have a majority on the committee.) Changes under consideration include:

  • Larger base size. I don’t believe I like that. It will probably mean more runs in a game and fewer outs on close plays. But then again, it could increase stolen base attempts, which would be fun.
  • A pitch clock. I definitely don’t like that. I have seen it in women’s college softball and I find it distracting.
  • Eliminating the shift. Having the third baseman on the grass between first and second base just isn’t right. So yeah, I think I like that change.
  • An electronic balls and strikes system. Are you kidding me?

Of course, there has always been change in baseball. The designated hitter was not instituted until 1973. The late, superb Oakland Athletics broadcaster Bill King once mentioned that there was a time in the late 1800s when the third base coach could tackle a runner to get him to hold at third.

What’s important, details aside, is that baseball is back. That means a lot.

baseball has (in my opinion) crossed a line

baseballBaseball teams exist to make a profit. They always have. I get that. When the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles and the Giants to San Francisco in 1958 it was about heading to wide open markets without competition. Legendary San Francisco Giants play-by-play broadcaster Hank Greenwald published a memoir entitled This Copyrighted Broadcast in 1999, near the end of his career. In it he laments the increasing commercialization of the sport, saying that it was coming close to the point where announcers would have to say, “This next pitch is brought to you by…” Beginning last year the Nike swoosh started appearing on all major league baseball uniforms. All of that.

Recently, however, Major League Baseball entered into an agreement that I find troubling. They developed a marketing arrangement with a company known as FTX. The firm is a cryptocurrency exchange, facilitating transactions in tender such as Bitcoin. Starting with the All Star game this year all umpires are wearing an FTX patch on their uniforms.

I have a couple of problems with this. First, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are on the fringes of legality. They’re not illegal, but the federal government hasn’t figured out how to regulate them. Traders use cryptocurrencies in questionable activities and in transactions where those involved want to keep their identities secret. It’s not something that baseball should involve itself with, particularly when the television viewer can clearly see the patch on the umpire’s shirt throughout the game.

My other problem is that umpires are supposed to be the very model of objectivity. Commercializing their uniforms is damages their credibility.

This is almost enough to get me to stop watching baseball. Not quite, but almost.

“Doesn’t anyone know how this game is played?”

I heard Giants broadcaster Jon Miller ask that question in a frustrated tone of voice after an odd play that invoked an obscure baseball rule. Miller didn’t like how the official scorer scored the play, and, as I recall, he may have been unhappy with the call on the field by the umpire as well.

I ask that question about some less obscure aspects of baseball these days. I’ve learned to accept the designated hitter in the National League during this COVID-19-shortened season, being grateful just to have baseball.

The one thing that does irk me, however, is the concept of the “opener” as opposed to a proper starting pitcher. That’s someone who pitches only an inning or two at the start of the game.

For example, in the final game of the National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves on Sunday, the Dodgers started Dustin May, who pitched only a single inning. He was followed by two more pitchers who each picked up two innings, and then by Brusdar Graterol who pitched a single inning. Finally, Julio Urías pitched the last three.

That’s not the baseball I grew up with. I was going to blame Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who played in a more traditional era, but Houston Mitchell wrote in the Dodgers newsletter:

quoteKeep in mind that Dave Roberts doesn’t decide who is going to start. He has input, yes, but the front office looks at all their flow charts, their crystal balls, their sabermetrics, their Tarot cards, their performance metrics, their Magic 8 Ball and decides who will start.

OK, Dave is off the hook.

And the Dodgers are in the World Series. We actually have a World Series this year, wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles.

That’s something to be thankful for in these crazy days.

that’s not how the game is played

(…except that it is)

As I’ve noted before, I have loved and followed baseball since I was five years old. And like many, I have a purist streak. I can tolerate the designated hitter in the American League, but please do not ever bring it to the National League.

baseballSo there are some recent trends that annoy me. One is position players pitching an inning near the end of a game where the outcome has been deemed to be not consequential. It’s bad enough to see other teams do it, but to have catcher Russell Martin of the Dodgers pitch an inning is aggravating. I’m not a big football fan, but I know enough about it to follow a game when I choose to watch (which is not often). I know that only certain players are eligible to receive a pass, and that their uniform number must be within a certain range. Baseball needs a similar rule.

Then there’s the “opener,” as opposed to starting pitcher. The opener only pitches an inning or two before being replaced by a pitcher in long relief. A team may announce that a certain left-handed pitcher is starting a game so as to influence the opposing team’s starting lineup. Except the opposing manager is frequently on to this ruse so it is often ineffective. The Angels did this the other day. Again, aggravating.

Then there’s the fact that intentional walks are now signaled by the manager, rather than having the pitcher throw four pitches off the plate. Not’s not how the game should be played.

OK. End of rant. Back to enjoying baseball.

Hank Greenwald

Terry was surfing on her iPhone one evening last week when she showed me an item conveying news of the passing of long-time San Francisco Giants broadcaster Hank Greenwald.

You perhaps know that I grew up a Dodgers fan and I am today a Dodgers fan. But there was an interim period when Terry and I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area that I was a Giants fan. Hank Greenwald had everything to do with that.

Hank GreenwaldTerry and I had rented a house in Mountain View, in the heart of Silicon Valley. The house had a lot of foliage that needed attention. I don’t mind doing yard work, in fact I rather enjoy it. At the same time I need something to listen to when I’m doing yard work. The nice thing about the Giants broadcast station KNBR is that it has a strong, clear signal and baseball is a great companion for yard work.

I immediately loved Hank’s wry witty style. He not only called the game, but he had great stories and his wry humor was a delight. My engagement with Hank developed into a full-fledged Giants fanship until Terry and I moved south and childhood loyalties won the day.

Hank brought a lot of pleasure to a lot of people and he will be greatly missed.