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So Quit Stalling, Baseball
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Another spring. Another baseball season. And yet another promise by Major League Baseball to trim the dead time that causes so many games to drag on and on. But don't count on it.

After all, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and cohorts have been promising for more than a dozen years to tackle the dismaying array of delaying tactics that meanwhile have swollen the average time of a game to nearly three hours.

But maybe we'll get lucky this year. Maybe umpires will actually enforce a new rule that says batters must keep at least one foot in the batter's box throughout their time at he plate, except after swinging at a pitch or hitting a foul ball, during timeouts or when replacing a broken bat.

That means -- or is supposed to mean -- that there'll be no more casual strolls by batters down the baseline between pitches, no stepping out of the batter's box to adjust batting gloves, helmets and other, more intimate, equipment (and body parts).

It also would help speed up games if umpires would enforce an often ignored rule that's supposed to curtail the stalling by pitchers that's at least as needlessly time-consuming as batters' stalling.

You know how pitchers ritualistically fiddle around with the ball between pitches, staring down at the red seams as if seeking a sign from the baseball gods? How they glare in at batters for the longest damn time? The rules say that unless there's a base runner to worry about, the pitcher must pitch the ball within 12 seconds. Another rule no one seems to notice says replacing a pitcher during an inning should take no more than 2 1/2 minutes.

The main reason major league baseball has become a drag, however, is not the stalling of pitchers and batters, as irritating as that can be. The main reason is, in a word, television.

Baseball has been slowing down most noticeably since 1985, when it was decreed that there be at least two minutes between half-innings to accommodate the commercials aired during televised games.

"That two minutes just slowed everybody's pace," says a veteran umpire. "It used to be pitchers threw one, two balls to warm up and they were ready to go. Now you have to tell them to hold up."

In the good old days, says a veteran scout, "The slightest delay got the umpire's attention. When he started the day hollering, 'Play ball,' he meant the whole afternoon. Now, with television taking over so much of the between-innings minutes, the rest of the game has fallen into place."

So what's to be done? The late gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson suggested eliminating pitchers -- "pampered little swine with too much money and no real effect on the game except to drag it out and interrupt the action." He called for substituting "fine-tuned pitching machines," whose pitches would be dialed up by catchers holding remote control units. Batters would be allowed to swing at five pitches -- all of them strikes. If that didn't result in a hit, they'd be out.

Sportswriter Ray Ratto has another idea. He proposes that "all games that take more than two hours and 40 minutes be accompanied by written reports from all those involved giving reasons why it did not end on time. If the answers aren't good enough, the players, coaches, managers and umpires do not get paid for that day."

Take their money. That just might do it.

Copyright (c) Dick Meister