Paul Auster’s a novelist. Paul Auster is also, it seems, a baseball fan. A couple of weeks ago, Tyler Kepner wrote a story about Baseball’s efforts to speed up the game. Actually, the story was about Baseball’s efforts to attract more kids. As Mark Attanasio said, "We’re faced with an aging demographic, and there’s any number of metrics which point to that. So it’s an issue we need to address.”
Which is something people have been saying for a half-century. Somehow the aging demographic just brings more and more money to the Mark Attanasios of the world. But I digress.
Over the weekend, The Times published a letter from Paul Auster:
To the Sports Editor:
Re “In Push to Shorten Games, There’s No Time to Waste,” Aug. 17: I would like to offer a suggestion about speeding up baseball. Eliminate the two-strike foul ball as a neutral play (neither strike nor ball) and rule it a strike. To compensate for the advantage this would give the pitcher, allow the batter to go to first base after three balls instead of four.
This way, no at-bat could last more than five pitches. Pitch counts would go down, allowing starting pitchers to go deeper into games, which in turn would reduce the dead time caused by changing pitchers — the primary reason games last so long these days.
Traditionalists will argue that this will alter baseball as we know it. But if games continue to drag on for three hours or longer, baseball as we know it will lose its audience.
a/k/a SLO-PITCH SOFTBALL
I’ve played slow-pitching softball and it’s a gas. Moves along real quick-like, too. As I recall, it’s possible to play seven innings in about an hour? Of course, my games weren’t on television. Not until the playoffs, anyway.
Yes, I’m kidding. Sort of. I have no idea if Auster’s scheme would actually work. It might leave game wildly out of balance, one way or the other. But would it really kill anyone to find out? As I’ve said many times, why not subsidize the Atlantic League as a test bed, and see what happens?
There’s nothing particularly brilliant about foul balls not counting as strikes, or four balls equaling a walk. These elements worked well enough when first implemented, more than a century ago. But that doesn’t mean they’re perfect, just because they’re what you grew up with.
Sorry to say this, but baseball isn’t nine innings and three-strikes-you’re-out and all the rest of it. Baseball is a pitcher throwing pitches and batters hitting baseballs and fielders fielding. Everything else should be at least occasionally negotiable. And we’ve lost sight of that, somewhere along the way.