Larsen Blog 3

Defending the Pitching Change

Baseball fans may have noticed an uptick in chatter about the length of Major League Baseball games and what tactics have, can, and should be done to both speed up play and shorten the overall time of game – which, while intertwined, are not exactly the same thing. 

One proposed change is a limit on the number of pitching changes a manager may make in a game.  Without getting into the myriad “what if?” scenarios that have been thrown at this concept, my objection is a much more simple and straightforward one.  In baseball, the defense controls the ball.  Again, the defense controls the ball in this glorious, (largely) untimed sport.  

The way the rules of the game are set-up, the defense is supposed to be in possession of the ball.  Setting aside the kissing cousins to baseball (cricket and rounders), this is fundamentally unlike nearly every other team sport, wherein the offense either controls the ball/puck outright (football, rugby), or as soon as a team takes possession, it switches from playing defense to playing offense (soccer, hockey, basketball).  Heck, when a runner advances while the ball is not in play, it’s called “stealing” a base.  To limit the number of times a manager can change pitchers - the ultimate controller of the ball, to me, undermines the basic strategic foundation of the game of baseball.

Whether a manager decides it is time to remove his current pitcher because he is not effective (getting shelled), or for more esoteric rationale (say, to get a lefty/lefty match-up), it would be a seismic shift to a most elemental strategy of the game to apply an arbitrary limit to the number of times this could happen over the course of forcing the opposition into 27 outs.  My totally irrelevant vote to this proposal is a resounding NAY.

Aside from the pitching changes, there are other modifications under consideration, such as expanding the current between-inning pitch clock to an every-at-bat pitch clock, limiting visits to the mound, adjusting TV time outs, and addressing the implementation of the shift.  When I read about the ways Commissioner Manfred and his advisers are exploring to speed up the game, summed up well by Maury Brown in Forbes, I was reminded of the gift which MLB Network gave us when it came on air in January, 2009 and rebroadcast Don Larsen’s perfect World Series game.  As I watched that incredible game from October 8, 1956, five realizations about my beloved sport of baseball struck me quite starkly:

1.       Among those Dodger/Yankee rosters one could just about field a Hall of Fame team.  The talent on that field was remarkable: Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella took the field for the Dodgers as the Yankees boasted Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Enos Slaughter among their sluggers.  Future legendary managers Gil Hodges and Billy Martin were also in their respective starting lineups.

2.       The incomparable and eventual Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully called the second half of the game – solo.  Even at a mere 28 years old, he was already god among men.  Enjoy retirement, Mr. Scully, and thank you.

3.       As a life-long Boston Red Sox fan, I found decent evidence that the origin of all pace of play problems lies with one Billy Martin.  Throughout the whole game, he was about the only player who repeatedly stepped out of the batter’s box.

4.       Sal Maglie, however, was decidedly not the cause of any delay of game.  As the starting pitcher for the Dodgers, he batted in the traditional ninth position, thus making the last out in both the third and sixth innings.  In the third inning Maglie lined out to center, and as the catch was made he rerouted his run directly to the mound.  More remarkably, in the sixth inning Maglie struck out swinging, dropped the bat, took the ball on a toss from Berra, and trotted to the mound where he got his glove from a teammate and proceeded to warmup for the next half inning. 

5.       Don Larsen walked off the mound after the last out as if it was the second inning on a Tuesday in April.  Look at the iconic picture of Yogi Berra jumping into Larsen’s arms and take note they are already at the first base line.  Don Larsen finished the game and simply walked off the mound toward his dugout; it took Berra that long to catch up to him.  There was no fist-pumping or posturing… even at the end of that perfect game, let alone after every strikeout or putout in the field.

Fret not, the irony that Maglie as well as Larsen pitched a complete game that October day is not lost on me.  And I wonder if perhaps a compulsory viewing of that historic World Series game in every spring training clubhouse should be under consideration to help the current pace of play situation – for a lot of reasons.

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