New Rules Destroy the Game
April 17, 2017
As baseball season begins, a few rule changes that occurred during the offseason have been enacted into regular gameplay, according to ESPN. With the intentional walk no longer requiring four pitches to the plate and instead being replaced with a hand wave to first, the destruction of baseball strategy has taken another step forward.
Baseball does not rely as heavily on feats of great athleticism and power as football or basketball do, but instead on the immense skill and strategy of the game itself. An intentional walk is used to make the pitcher throw four balls well beyond the strike zone to get the hitter to first. This puts the pitcher out of the rhythm of the game, can lead to potential mistakes and also give any runners on base the chance to either steal or provoke a balk. The next batter gets to face a pitcher who just made four pitches completely out of sync with the rest of the game as well as the mental acceptance that it was strategically smarter to walk the batter than give the pitcher a chance to strike the batter out. This has always been the built-in cost to essentially making any dangerous batter a non-factor in a potentially run-scoring situation. An intentional walk represents another facet in the chess game taking place between the two teams in play, and changing the nature of it detracts from the game.
This is the perpetual problem with Major League Baseball in the modern era. As fans continue to look for shorter and more exciting content, the league is responding by cutting time wherever it can — even when it would only result in shaving seconds off the run time. The league did not think about the effects it would have on a game that builds on itself every second, whether electrifying or tedious. Baseball creates tension slowly and steadily. It is about how each pitch and at-bat changes the strategy and game plan that each player and each team have in place. Forcing the pitcher to make the intentional walk himself is a part of that. The more the MLB tears away from the game to speed it up, the easier it will be to lose what makes the game great in the first place.
Baseball should never be competing with basketball or football regarding the speed or general liveliness of the game. It thrives off the slow build that leads to its unparalleled ability to create drama. An intentional walk in the ninth inning that leads to a walk off hit only happens with the growth of nine other innings of play, and yes, four pitches into the glove of a standing catcher. At the very least, however, Detroit Tigers infielder Miguel Cabrera’s base hit off of an intentional walk pitch a bit too close to the strike zone demonstrates that we should never discount what can happen over the course of an at-bat that is not just waved to first.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 17 print edition. Email Thomas Price at [email protected]