Faster, Faster!

A quick housekeeping note first: you’ve still got time to sign up for my newsletter before the first issue goes out. I’ll be experimenting with the content for several months at least, but my plan is to give subscribers exclusive content not found on the blog.

This month it’ll include a bit about teasing the FBI and a sneak peek at the first draft of my current Work-in-Progress.

If you haven’t signed up already, just click here. You’ll be asked for your e-mail address and name, but only the address is mandatory. And, of course, I’ll never sell you out to advertisers or the feds.

Moving on.

As has become the new normal, we’ve got a rule change in baseball this season aimed at streamlining the game, speeding it up and making it more exciting.

And, of course, there’s been a lot of discussion about it. Jackie had a good piece on it a few days ago. But honestly, I think her comments on the pace of the game from a few years ago make the point much more strongly.

The rule change, for those of you not of the faith, is that it’s no longer necessary to actually walk somebody intentionally. Don’t want to pitch to him? Just give the sign and let him go straight to first.

As Jackie and many others have pointed out, this isn’t going to save much time, it’s not going to appreciably speed up the game, and it eliminates a bit of suspense–the chance of something going wrong.

I agree that it’s not a change for the better, but I’m more annoyed by the fact that they’re going ahead with a change that has so little impact on the game. Why bother?

The rule change–and some of the other proposals that won’t be introduced this year, such as shrinking the strike zone–has resulted in a few interesting ideas for speeding up the game and (Goddess help us) making it “more exciting”.

Patrick Dubuque, for example, has an article over at Baseball Prospectus suggesting that baseball should de-emphasize the strikeout. That’ll encourage players to put the ball in play more often (a much more exciting end to an at bat) and shorten games (fewer pitches thrown).

I kind of like the idea, actually, but the problem with the proposal, and most such notions, is that they fundamentally change the nature of the game.

There’s actually a very simple way to shorten ballgames that doesn’t require altering the game itself. Just add a time limit to the reasons for calling a game.

Don’t laugh.

We already end games at less than nine innings in the event of inclement weather. And if at least five innings* have been played, the game is considered played and counts in the standings just like a nine-inning game.

* Yes, that’s slightly simplified. Doesn’t affect the argument I’m making here.

There’s certainly precedent for using considerations beside the weather to cut a game short. Before 1947, for example, a game that began without artificial lighting could not be finished under the lights. Yes, even if the stadium had lights–and almost all the major league parks did by then–the game had to be called on account of darkness if the teams were still playing at sunset.

We’ll never get back to the length of a game in the 1940s (somewhere between an hour and 55 minutes and 2 hours and 20 minutes). The necessity for a specified number of TV commercials, and the concomitant need for in-park, between-innings entertainment (dot races, mascot races, etc.) means we’re consuming something on the order of three-quarters of an hour on TV breaks alone. But 2:45? That’s doable.

So we treat the 2:30 mark (since our target is 2:45, but we have to play out the half-inning, we need to have the trigger a bit earlier) the same way we do a sudden rain: finish the current half-inning (or full inning if the visitors are batting and have a lead) and end the game right there. If the game is tied or didn’t go four and a half innings, treat it the same way as in a rainout, and reschedule or finish it the next day.

Problem solved.

OK, I’ll grant you the transition might be a little awkward, with games ending after five or six innings, but players and managers will adjust. Time management will take on a whole new level of strategic importance, with the team in the lead trying to slow the game down and the trailer trying to speed it up. But again, it’s the same thing we already see when there’s a prediction of unfavorable weather.

Again: we already deal with the issue multiple times every season. Now we’ll make it part of every game. No big deal.

Games will be shorter and–by virtue of packing the same amount of action into a smaller amount of time–more exciting. We won’t need to change any of our existing statistics. And the additional pressure might just increase the number of intentional walks where something goes wrong.

Free Books!

Apparently I’m doing this all wrong.

Oh, not the actual writing. Just the self-promotion.

I had thought that this blog was the way to go: get some words out there, attract a little attention, keep the content fresh, and build up a loyal core of followers.

Unfortunately, the current wisdom in publishing is that blogs don’t sell books. What does sell, I’m told, is a newsletter; something that reminds your fans that you exist. In other words, once a month or so, authors should go around to their readers, tap them on the shoulder, and say, “Hey, just checking in. I’m still here, still writing. Oh, and by the way, I’ll be in your town next month, signing books. Why don’t you drop by and say hello?”

The idea makes sense. I know how easy it can be to forget about a blog when you’re busy with your real life. There’s a niche for a basic reminder, free of random product reviews, rants about baseball, and cat pictures. But there’s a bit of a chicken-or-egg problem involved in getting people to subscribe to a newsletter about some author they’ve never heard of, and whose first book isn’t even out yet.

The best idea I’ve been able to come up with is to keep blogging, and try to convince the thousands of people who come here looking for recipes for leftover sauerkraut* to sign up.

* For those of you who have come in late, that’s the most popular post I’ve ever written. It’s drawn more than three times as many views as the next most popular post. Thank you, Google, for keeping it in the first page of results for more than three years!

Oh, and to offer prizes.

So, no, the blog isn’t going away, nor do I have any plans to change the content. I’ll still ramble on about the cats, the Mariners, the Bay Bridge, and anything else that strikes my fancy.

But if you look over to the right (or down at the bottom of the page if you’re reading on a mobile device), you’ll see a link to subscribe to my newsletter. Or you can just click here.

Standard disclaimers apply: I won’t sell your names and addresses, nor will I give them away. I won’t send spam, I won’t send more than one message a month (barring emergencies), and I won’t keep you on the list if you want to leave.

What I will do is send you monthly-ish updates on my publications and, when the time comes, signings and other appearances.

And, to encourage you all to sign up, I’m going to give away– absolutely free–copies of The RagTime Traveler! (At this point in the narrative, you should picture me doing my best Kermit the Frog imitation.)

I’m still working out the details–how many copies, how I’ll select the recipients (it’ll be random, but I haven’t decided between rolling dice, picking ping-pong balls out of a barrel, or throwing darts), and so on–but I will say this: the more subscribers there are, the more copies I’ll give away. So don’t just sign up yourself. Tell your friends, your enemies, and everyone in between.

And, once I figure out the process, I’ll announce the details–where else–in the newsletter.