Even stranger than all the dithering and delay tactics baseball allows,
though, are the game's subset of apologist fans who excuse it. They not
only tolerate the painfully slow pace, they absurdly defend it as
intrinsic to the sport—usually with some mystical, dreamy-eyed,
Kinsella-wannabe rumination on The Game Without a Clock.
Like the Red Sox's Dustin Pedroia. When Joe West's comments went public,
the Red Sox were in Kansas City and their clubhouse was all a-twitter.
Pedroia got especially snippy. The second-baseman slammed West, mocked
fans who might not want to spend five hours of their free time at the
ballpark, then pointed out to reporters that baseball doesn't have a
Josh Beckett—who even on his good days works with all the urgency of
a surly postal worker on a late Friday afternoon—decided to let his
actions do the talking. Or, really, his inaction. Either Beckett went to
the mound on a mission to show the world just how slowly baseball can be
played, or he used all that time between pitches to work on his uncanny
tribute to a Duane Hanson sculpture.
The Game Without a Clock, however, has a clock. Dustin Pedroia might
want to check the Official Rules of Major League Baseball. Specifically,
Rule 8.04, which states, "When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher
shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds." Umpires, the
rule goes on, are required to penalize a pitcher by calling a ball every
time it takes too long to deliver a throw. And you thought the NBA
didn't enforce traveling?
Last season, according to Stats LLC, big
league pitchers averaged—averaged—just under 27 seconds between
pitches. More than double what the rules allow. For some reason, though,
only Jonathan Papelbon, another Boston hurler, gets in trouble for
stalling. Sort of. The reliever was cited for delay tactics seven times
in 2009. Papelbon, making $9.35 million this year, was fined about
$9,000. That'll teach him.
If pitchers are bad, though, batters are worse. Rule 6.02, covering hitters at the plate, runs for several hundred words
and includes paragraphs of commentary on commentary that descend into
Talmudic complexity. The gist, though, is clear. The batter has to keep
at least one foot in the batter's box the entire at-bat. Time-outs,
technically anyway, are only for extraordinary circumstances, like if a
batter is hurt by a foul-tip or wild pitch. At the very least, hitters
shouldn't be allowed to simply saunter away from the plate whenever they
feel a tad winded or the game gets a little too intense. Isn't fighting
fatigue and thriving under pressure, you know, part of sports?
Nothing grates more, though, than timeouts granted for players to adjust
their uniforms. Doesn't it seem, for instance, that the incomparable
Derek Jeter, clearly the finest leader of men since Napoleon, should be
able to stay in the batter's box and keep swinging even when facing the
raw horror of playing with a droopy sock?