Torre backs lat­est idea to speed up base­ball

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The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - DAVE SHEININ

To hear Joe Torre tell it, Ma­jor League Base­ball is plagued by a plethora of bullpendrain­ing, fan-shed­ding, 15-in­ning slogs that end af­ter mid­night with some poor po­si­tion player com­i­cally lob­bing 75-mph meat­balls over the plate. That, at least, was the rea­son­ing Torre, the sport’s chief base­ball of­fi­cer, gave Ya­hoo! Sports this week to sup­port the ex­per­i­men­tal new rule MLB will im­ple­ment in the low mi­nor leagues this sea­son, with each ex­tra half-in­ning be­gin­ning with a run­ner on sec­ond base. “It’s not fun when you go through your whole pitch­ing staff and wind up bring­ing a util­ity in­fielder in to pitch,” Torre said. But the facts don’t back that up — which is just one rea­son, and only the most su­per­fi­cial of them, why MLB’s lat­est idea to speed up the game is a mis­guided one. In 2016, there were 185 ex­tra-in­ning games out of a to­tal of 2,428 games played, or 7.6 per cent. Of those 185, nearly two-thirds (122) ended in 10 or 11 in­nings, and just eight (4.3 per cent) lasted 15 in­nings or longer. And only one of those 185 ex­tra-in­ning games — the 19-in­ning marathon in Toronto be­tween the In­di­ans and Blue Jays on July 1 — ended with a po­si­tion player on the mound. So this was by no means a mas­sive prob­lem that was cry­ing out for an ag­gres­sive so­lu­tion. Be­sides, plenty of hard­core base­ball fans — in­clud­ing the ded­i­cated op­er­a­tors of the Twit­ter ac­count “Pos Play­ers Pitch­ing” (@70mph­fast­ball) — who love the oc­ca­sional spec­ta­cle of a backup short­stop on the mound, re­liv­ing his high school glory days as an all-county hurler. The 19-in­ning game in Toronto ac­tu­ally fea­tured two Blue Jays po­si­tion play­ers — Ryan Goins and Dar­win Bar­ney — called on to pitch, and the In­di­ans’ 2-1 vic­tory, with Bar­ney sur­ren­der­ing the go-ahead run in the top of the 19th, stood as one of the most mem­o­rable games of the sea­son and served as a pre­cur­sor to the dom­i­nance the In­di­ans’ bullpen dis­played in its march to the World Se­ries a few months later. Yes, base­ball games are too long, and the sport’s ef­forts to ad­dress pace-of-play are laud­able and nec­es­sary. But there are plenty of ways to make a more sig­nif­i­cant im­pact — by lim­it­ing mound vis­its, for ex­am­ple, or en­forc­ing cur­rent rules re­gard­ing hit­ters step­ping out of the bat­ter’s box — than by toy­ing with ex­tra-in­ning rules. It’s not even clear that start­ing each ex­tra half-in­ning with a run­ner on sec­ond would have the de­sired ef­fect of end­ing games more quickly. Here’s the thing: It’s not the 18-in­ning, five­hour marathons that are turn­ing off fans. It’s the four-hour, nine-in­ning games with 15 pitch­ing changes and the ball ac­tu­ally in play for maybe five min­utes to­tal. Thank­fully, this ex­tra-in­nings trial likely won’t make its way to the big leagues any time soon, if ever. Over the years, as other sports have made fun­da­men­tal rule changes that al­tered the na­ture of how points are scored — the 3point shot in bas­ket­ball, the over­time changes in hockey, the con­stant tin­ker­ing in foot­ball with the ex­tra-point — base­ball could look on with smug sat­is­fac­tion that the na­ture of its game, and how runs have been scored, has re­mained vir­tu­ally un­changed for more than a cen­tury. It’s one of the game’s great­est ap­peals: a .300 aver­age or a 2.00 ERA means more or less the same thing to­day as it did in Babe Ruth’s era. Short­stops have been throw­ing out fast baserun­ners by a half-step since your great­grand­fa­ther was at­tend­ing games. Games for­ever have been played with­out a clock, and with one guid­ing prin­ci­pal: It isn’t over un­til the fi­nal out is se­cured. Do you re­ally want to mess with that nearper­fect equi­lib­rium over a rule that would, at best, af­fect just a hand­ful of games a year? There’s a rea­son base­ball hasn’t made a fun­da­men­tal rule change since 1973, when the Amer­i­can League adopted the des­ig­nated hit­ter, caus­ing an awk­ward split be­tween the leagues that was never fixed. More than 40 years later, we’re still ar­gu­ing about that one.

STEVE RUS­SELL, TORONTO STAR

Blue Jays sec­ond base­man Dar­win Bar­ney pitches the 19th in­ning of Toronto’s 2-1 loss to the Cleve­land In­di­ans on Canada Day at the Rogers Cen­tre in Toronto. July 1, 2016.

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