At the start of the season, I yelled at everybody about the pitch clock (either we have a time limit on baseball, or we don’t.) Much discussion has spun about whether or not the pitch clock is really changing the game or not– and I suppose if it’s not, we won’t be arguing about this topic next year.

It will just… be, assimilated into the flow of the game, and the children in kindergarten at the moment will listen with raised eyebrows to our wild tales about pitchers wandering around the mound and endless hand guard adjustment. It was a simpler time, we will say, one in which we were required to shove our own snacks in our faces. There was no app for it.

If that sounds strange, imagine the life of a person who lived through the early days of baseball long enough to see the much-more-organized era of the 1900’s. In what was known as the “Knickerbocker Rules,” there were no called strikes. At-bats lasted for around 45 pitches per batter. The only thing that ended the game was the movement of the sun. People just sat around until it got dark and then climbed into the carriage or walked home. If you were on an unfortunate blind date, there was no escape.

There were no innings. There were no Little League mercy rules. There were no last calls for drinks because they couldn’t sell drinks. (You might have heard that the Cincinnati Reds were kicked out of the early National League for insisting on serving beer and conducting games on Sundays, which was an extraordinary moment in American history: It established Cincinnati, for about five minutes, as a total party town that NOBODY COULD CONTROL.)

And yet, life in the league was so unorganized that nobody’s lineup was stable, because the shortstop might have miss the game to plow the back fifteen. Part of this instability was due to the fact that the game was organically sorting itself out. Would baseball favor defense or offense? Lots of runs or lots of baserunning? All of it? Would this degenerate generation ever turn away from this dishonorable practice of selling beer at a baseball game?

We now find ourselves in the position of placing great emphasis on the quality of the food at a ball park (a friend of mine used to attend Pirates games to graze dinner, then get into his car nine innings later with no idea what the score was.) That’s a shift even within my own lifetime; in the concrete bowl days, did anyone tell you that “we’re going to dinner at the ball game” and receive the reply of “Oh great! Try the Montgomery Inn pork!” or “Don’t miss the goetta pimento cheese sandwich?”

Never. You chose between a suspiciously greyish hot dog and a suspiciously grey cheeseburger. And you know what GABP would like to receive the most attention for these days? Its beer list. What once got us booted from the entire league now has its own entry on Yelp.

This didn’t happen simply because food tastes and expectations have changed.  It happened because our attention spans have faded to an almost infinite vanishing point. It happened because the game has changed– and sometimes we need to let it.


13 Responses

  1. AMDG

    Interesting, as I would not have expected a Cincinnati team to be the one to make such a brazen stand against blue laws.

    As far as the recent changes, one could argue they are an attempt to get back to the original intent and game pay.

    All this time wasted between pitches for the pitcher to stand around, and for hitter to do a little song and dance while adjusting batting gloves, are deviations from the original intent.

    And the pitch clock helps to eliminate these time-wasting novelties, and forces the players to get the ball and play ball – back to how the game was played.

    • Scott C

      Uhhh, I think that Mary Beth just explained that the original intent was to play till it was too dark to play. So no the rule change although I think it is beneficial, does not get us back to the original intent.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        There weren’t street lights to turn on and creative a definitive cue that it was time to go home 🙂

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      That’s an interesting prospect. I handn’t thought about the use of introducing something new to preserve the original.

  2. LDS

    Baseball will ultimately become a live action video game. Eventually, we’ll have robo-umpires then robo-managers (that might actually help the Reds these days). Soon, we won’t need players, it will be all algorithms. Two teams will meet, a few thousand simulations will run, and the winner will be announced. No need for players, stadiums, or any of the other expensive items. Alternatively, the players could be simulated, teams could be made up of the greats throughout history, and fans could subscribe to the season as they do now. Its’ coming. It’s the gamification of reality’s next iteration. Ask ChatGPT.

  3. Scott C

    Very good history lesson and article Mary Beth. I have been away for awhile, I just could not bear to read anything about the Reds as I saw opportunities to sign players that would help help us passed up and instead signing either has been players or never will be players. Glad to see some of the young kids getting a chance, if we are going to lose anyway at least I am glad to see if some of these prospects will swim or sink.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I know. We shouldn’t have to talk ourselves into following our home team. In times like this, we have to focus on the beauty of the game itself.

  4. Mark Moore

    Visons of Al Hrabosky and his little routine as the “Mad Hungarian” come quickly to mind.

    I personally like the quicker pace of the games, but that’s because I can’t always stick it out when they went so long last season. But you do hit on a point about attention span and pivoting to the high-end concession offerings vs. watching an actual baseball game.

    Thinking about all this, I went off to find the clip from “The Rookie” where Dennis Quaid’s character leaves the bar and is drawn to the lighted Little League field where he just stands and watches for a while.

    I’m still excited to see the younger guys take their shots. We won’t be headed to the post-season, but it’s been more fun to watch for the most part.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I’m so glad you brought up that scene in “The Rookie”– it’s underrated as far as quietly showing what is great about baseball. I think along with the attention span issue, baseball games are now sold as “an experience” rather than on their own merit.

  5. Jim Walker

    A couple of years ago I signed up for MiLB TV to watch Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo make their trek to the Reds.

    Somewhere along the line while alternately watching MLB and MiLB games, I realized I preferred the pace of MiLB games. While I knew this was because the MiLB games seemed to move along faster, I thought the games just seemed quicker because I usually quit them after Greene (or Lodolo) was done for the night.

    However, over time I grasped I liked the MiLB games better because the pitch clock kept them on a rhythm that held my focus and increased my enjoyment of watching them.

    My concern when I learned the pitch clock was coming to MLB was that there would be endless shenanigans by pitchers (mostly) and batters to try and blunt its impact.
    On the flip side, I worried enforcement would be erratic and uneven from one umpiring crew to another just as the strike zone varies with individual umpires.

    Thankfully MLB laid down the law. This hasn’t been the case; and, MLB is now a better game because of the pitch clock.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I greatly appreciate hearing a discussion about the pace in MLB vs MiLB. It’s difficult to tell the “feel” of the game by numbers alone. They key speeding up the games before was enforcing the rules already present, but even though that didn’t happen, they’ll hopefully keep laying down the law on the pitch clock.