Gods Bless

Mind you, the “God Bless America” fiasco could have been avoided if MLB hadn’t made it part of the seventh inning stretch ceremonies after 9/11.

Now that it’s become an issue, though, how’s this for an idea: drop the song completely.

The break between innings has been made shorter this season as part of the commissioner’s pace of play fetish. Between that song, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” (which has a much longer tradition behind it), the ever-popular DanceCam/KissCam, and the various staged races (presidents, dots, sausages, etc., etc., etc.), that pause between halves of the seventh inning is getting increasingly crowded.

This is a great opportunity to drop “God Bless America” and return to the status quo ante.

Not going to happen, though. Any attempt to remove the song will be spun as an attack on Christianity, just like the non-existent, so-called “War on Christmas”. Or, for that matter, the protests against restoring the Pledge of Allegiance to its original wording by removing “under God”.

Which is, of course, the whole problem in a nutshell.

Keeping the song offends those of us who think the proper place for deities at sporting events is in the stands, like all the other spectators*. That its presence is also offensive to non-Christians is merely the raspberry buttercream on the chocolate cake.

* Let’s be blunt here: a baseball player’s five tools are hitting for average and power, fielding, throwing, and baserunning. Nothing on that list about praying or otherwise getting God to work a few miracles on behalf of his team.

Removing it offends team owners’ wallets. Or, at least that’s what they think. “A highly visible boycott? Heaven forfend!”

Did you know, by the way, that baseball attendance has not been in decline? For all the fuss the commissioner has made about needing new fans, the total annual attendance across all MLB stadiums since 2000 has consistently been right around 72.5 million. (Which does, by the way, suggest that “God Bless America” has neither helped nor hurt baseball.)

The disruption to tradition hasn’t been in support of rescuing a dying fanbase. It’s about increasing profits, now that ticket prices have reached the point where any further increase would lower demand.

Not that that should surprise anybody.

God Bless Baseball. Some god. Any volunteers? Let’s not always see the same hands…

Faster, Faster!

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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.

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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.