erik lundegaard


Friday March 10, 2023

The New Timer, the Absence of the Clock, and a Great Pirates Comeback

As soon as I heard about the concept of a “pitch clock” I was against it. Baseball doesn't do clocks. Baseball doesn't do time. Didn't Roger Angell say that? But better?

He did:

“Since baseball time is measured only in outs, all you have to do is succeed utterly; keep hitting, keep the rally alive, and you have defeated time. You remain forever young.”

He also said this:

“Baseball's clock ticks inwardly and silently, and a man absorbed in a ball game is caught in a slow, green place of removal and concentration and in a tension that is screwed up slowly and ever more tightly with each pitcher's windup and with the almost imperceptible forward lean and little half-step with which the fielders accompany each pitch. Whatever the pace of the particular baseball game we are watching, whatever its outcome, it holds us in its own continuum and mercifully releases us from our own.”

That's beautiful. And now the current lords of Baseball are messing with that beauty. They want to make sure batters step into the box within a certain number of seconds (or get an automatic strike) and pitchers pitch within a certain number of seconds (or get an automatic ball). They tried it out in the minors and this year they're trying it out in the Majors. They're ruining the game!

That's what I thought.

And then I read Joe Posnanski's piece, “Baseball and Time,” in which he was very much in favor of the pitch-clock change. And he won me over. I'm looking forward to the change now.

No. 1, it's increasingly kinda necessary. In my lifetime, games have gotten longer and longer, and players aren't going to police themselves—they'll take what they can get—and so they have to be policed. Apparently spring training games are a half-hour quicker this season: 2.5 hours vs. 3 hours. That's about what it was when I was a kid.

As for Roger Angell's great quote about baseball and time? Poz says it still applies:

But there's a bigger reason I believe both in a pitch clock in baseball and no clock in baseball — it's because I think we're talking about two entirely different things. I don't think the concepts clash at all.

See, by “no clock in baseball,” what I'm really thinking about is not time between pitches. It's all about how outs, not minutes, are the currency of time in the game. That's the magic. ...

If anyone tried to mess with that part of baseball, sure, I'd roar angrily. Three outs in an inning ... nine innings in a game ... this is the most elegant way ever created to time a sport in my view. There is no clock limiting your possibilities. You could be down six runs with two outs in the ninth inning and nobody on base, the way Pittsburgh was against Houston in 2001. If this were an NFL game or NBA game or NHL game or soccer game, there would have been no hope.

But baseball has no clock. And there was hope. And the Pirates came back and won. I'll have more on that game as we get closer to a certain book I've written.

Point is, there's still no clock in baseball. There's now a timer to make sure that guys don't just stand around and halt the forward momentum of the game. But you're still alive until the last out is recorded.

I like that distinction. Here's that Pirates game, btw, when they defeated time and remained forever young. 

You know the fun thing about that game? Besides the obvious? After Pat Meares' HR makes it 8-4, the color announcer—is it Bob Walk?—says, “A lot of hoopin' and hollerin', but the horse is already out of the barn.” I probably would've thought the same. No chance for a comeback. But when they do come back, when Brian Giles goes deep to win it, the same color announcer offers a really nice, really smooth mea culpa. “Seven runs in the bottom of the 9th inning, he hits a grand slam homerun off possibly the best closer in baseball ... That is just phenomenal. Well, they went out and found that horse, put a rope around his neck, and let him back in the barn.”

Opening Day is March 30.

Posted at 02:06 PM on Friday March 10, 2023 in category Baseball