Major League Baseball announced it has come to an agreement to eliminate the formality of intentional walks. No longer will pitchers be required to lob four pitches to a catcher standing four feet from home plate. Instead, the manager will simply gesture to the umpire to give a free pass. The move is part of a larger effort to reduce game length, a challenge Commissioner Rob Manfred seems determined to tackle no matter how stupid some of his ideas may be.
However eliminating the intentional walk will have a very negligible effect on game lengths. Intentional walks only take about a minute, and as ESPN points out:
In an age in which intentional walks actually have been declining -- there were just 932 all last season (or one every 2.6 games) -- that time savings would be minimal.
Intentional walks are not all that common, so it is not like Manfred is ripping apart the fabric of the game. But this is just further evidence that he just does not understand baseball’s fanbase. Baseball is a game rooted in tradition, dipped in history, and lacquered in nostalgia. The core fan base are traditionalists, many of which cringe in terror at the mere thought of changing any rules.
That doesn’t mean rules shouldn’t be changed. Baseball has been altered several times over the years, sometimes quite dramatically. Spitballs were outlawed. The designated hitter rule was implemented. Instant replay was adopted.
But the rule change needs to be worth changing a century’s worth of tradition. Spitballs were dangerous to hitters - outlaw em! Offense was at absurdly low levels - add a hitter! Umpires were screwing up - let them see a replay!
Manfred is looking to impose a solution a problem that, frankly, does not exist. No one was really complaining about the length of intentional walks. The cost of losing the tradition of a catcher standing up with his arm stretched wide isn’t great, but it is not insignificant either.
During the 1972 World Series between the Reds and A’s, Bobby Tolan stole second with Johnny Bench at bat against Rollie Fingers. After a mound visit from manager Dick Williams, it looked like the A’s were going to intentionally walk the future Hall of Fame catcher. Catcher Gene Tenace stood up as if to call for the free pass, but quickly crouched back down as Fingers painted the outside corner for a called strike three. Under the new rules, that moment is gone.
Bo Jackson once swung at an intentional walk pitch that veered a bit too close to the strike zone, flying out. But Miguel Cabrera did him one better, singling home the game-winning run. Under the new rules, that moment is gone.
And of course there are the times when pitchers just forget how to make a simple throw without making their full windup. Under the new rules, these moments are gone.
Is this the biggest deal in the world? No. Will it gain any new fans if Commissioner Manfred shaves a few minutes off game times? Probably not. Will it tick off longtime hardcore fans? Yes.
You want to reduce the pace of play? Great! Reduce mound visits. Institute a pitch clock. Reduce the time between innings. Keep hitters in the box. Add those all up, and they would have a much bigger impact than this.
But Commission Rob Manfred wants to show he is up to the job. And he’s trying too hard. Give me my four unintentionally hilarious lobs from a pitcher back, Mr. Commissioner.