Here is an early link to my Sunday column about baseball trying to speed up the game. The full text runs below:
I hate batting gloves.
I take that back. It’s so unfair to batting gloves to generalize like that, batting gloves being inanimate objects without souls or wills of their own. Plus, I’m scared the Fairness to Batting Gloves lobby will sue me.
I’ll be more specific. I hate what batting gloves have become in Major League Baseball. All those batters stepping out of the batter’s box after every pitch and playing with their batting gloves, re-adjusting them, fondling them. Doing whatever they do. I’ll get back to batting-gloves folderol in a moment.
But first, this. The powers of Major League Baseball are as disgusted with batting-glove madness as I am. In case you don’t know, the gods of baseball sent down an edict to batters: Stay in the batter’s box. If batters walk away during an at-bat, they will get fined starting in May.
Right now, MLB sends out warning letters. Gregor Blanco got one. Call it giving dawdling players a grace period. Against the A’s, Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre stepped out, as is his habit, realized he broke the rule and jumped back in like someone doing the bunny hop. It was a humorous moment. It also was serious.
There are exceptions to the rule. A batter must keep one foot in the box after he takes a pitch. But if he swings and misses, or gets forced out of the box by a pitch, or a defensive player attempts a play on a base runner, or the batter feints a bunt — stuff like that — he can step out and commence the entire batting glove routine.
To its credit, MLB is trying to speed up the game. It sure needs speeding up. Games are so long they have become a way of life. You go to the park. You age 10 years by the ninth inning. You walk out an old person.
Batting gloves are to blame.
I’ll give you an example. The Panda. Remember him — Pablo Sandoval. One of the worst offenders when he was in San Francisco. I cannot address his Boston batting glove habits.
Before every at-bat, he did that dance routine, performing a jig in front of the batter’s box, then whacking himself on the noggin with his bat. He did even more, but I forgot. None of this was a problem. Honestly. It took place before the first pitch and Panda performed the routine quickly, didn’t tick off the pitcher. Although ornery Bob Gibson would have drilled the Panda, anyway.
It was after the first pitch Panda drove you nuts. He walked away from the batter’s box. He walked as far as South San Francisco. He undid the straps on his batting gloves. He retightened the straps on his batting gloves. How could straps get loose in just a few seconds? The game waited. The world waited. Grown people in the press box groaned.
The pitcher threw another pitch. Panda took it — admittedly a rare occurrence. Panda stepped out. He walked as far as South San Francisco. He undid the straps on his batting gloves. He retightened the straps on his batting gloves. The game waited. The world waited.
Again and again and again. Panda was sinning against baseball. Heck, he was sinning against time.
Panda was not the only sinner. The entire culture of baseball had taken to killing time, to obsessing over batting gloves. Whatever happened to hitting barehanded?
Rich Aurilia was at the Panda level. I need to admit something here. Aurilia and I are friends. I call him Richie. We grew up in the same Brooklyn neighborhood. We speak the same lingo. He is a great guy and he produces great wine.
But after every pitch, he stepped out of the box and walked away and redid his gloves. He must have been thinking about the next pitch — what it would be, where it would be. Or maybe he just loved his gloves. Needed to reconnect with them. I would whisper to myself, “Please stop the glove thing, Richie. Please get in the box. Please move the game along. I’m on deadline.”
Richie, I hope you’re not sore at me. I lost two years of my life because of you and your gloves.
A hidden agenda lurked behind all this stalling. The batter wanted to psych out the pitcher, irritate the pitcher. The batter wanted the at-bat on his terms and at his pace.
Not all batters used that slow, boring, game-killing tactic. You want to know who was a champ in the refusal-to-adjust-batting-gloves department, in the staying-in-the-batter’s-box department? Barry Bonds. I swear. I’ve criticized Bonds a ton. I never criticized his approach at the plate. He was a hero.
The pitch came in. Let’s say he took it. OK, this was the key moment. Would he step out? Would he wander? Would he delay?
Bonds kept one foot in the batter’s box. Sometimes, he kept two feet in. He was ready to hit. Right away. Now. Any time.
He was making a nonverbal statement. An important statement. Let me put it into words. Imagine Bonds speaking to the pitcher: “I am here to hit. I am ready whenever you are. We will conduct this transaction on your agenda, on your terms, at your speed. It makes no difference to me. Any advantage you think you need, go for it. I am not trying to psych you out. I am not trying to irritate you. I want to hit. You can wait 30 seconds. You can throw the ball now. Whenever you throw it, I will win. I am not afraid of you. You are afraid of me. Let’s get it on.”
Bonds remaining in the batter’s box was not primarily a time-of-game issue, although, obviously, it was. It was a nature-of-the-game issue. It established his dominance, his warlike spirit, and it reflected his greatness as a hitter. He dared the pitcher to throw the ball.
Frank Robinson was exactly the same — if you can remember back that far. Stood in the box. Loomed over the plate. Like fate. Like Nemesis. “Just throw the damn ball,” he seemed to say. “I will murder it and I will murder you.” And he did.
I’m not sure if the one-foot-in-the-box rule speeds up games — way too early to tell, sample size too small. I hope the rule speeds up games. But it restores aggression to baseball. Gives it the right tone, the right feel, the right meaning. Makes it infinitely more watchable — at last.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.