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Paul Auster has a radical idea to speed up games

Aug 25, 2014, 11:33 AM EDT

Paul Auster

Paul Auster wrote three of my favorite stories: “City of Glass,” “Ghosts” and “The Locked Room.” They were eventually combined into one book called “The New York Trilogy.” They’re superficially detective stories but they’re really sort of post-modern freakouts in the form of detective stories. Which was something that blew my mind when I read them in the mid-90s or whenever it was. I re-read them every couple of years and, God, you should go read them too. They’re amazing.

Auster has another book I like too, “Book of Illusions.” Totally different thing — a mourning writer and long-missing silent film star — but there are post-modern elements to it too. Stuff where the author gets mixed up with the characters and things like that. I haven’t read a lot of his other stuff, but I assume that’s just one of his things: exploding the story and turning it inside out or whatever. A little of that goes a long way in my experience, but he does it very well.

But maybe he should stick to blowing up his characters’ lives and step away from blowing up baseball. From the New York Times Letters to the Sports Editor page from the other day:

To the Sports Editor:

Re “In Push to Shorten Games, There’s No Time to Waste,” Aug. 17: I would like to offer a suggestion about speeding up baseball. Eliminate the two-strike foul ball as a neutral play (neither strike nor ball) and rule it a strike. To compensate for the advantage this would give the pitcher, allow the batter to go to first base after three balls instead of four.

This way, no at-bat could last more than five pitches. Pitch counts would go down, allowing starting pitchers to go deeper into games, which in turn would reduce the dead time caused by changing pitchers — the primary reason games last so long these days.

Traditionalists will argue that this will alter baseball as we know it. But if games continue to drag on for three hours or longer, baseball as we know it will lose its audience.



I feel like that would blow my mind in a bad way even more than “New York Trilogy” blew my mind in a good way when I first read it.

(h/t to the Baseball Freaks)

  1. dowhatifeellike - Aug 25, 2014 at 11:37 AM

    It’ll never happen, but it would be interesting to watch a few exihibition games with these rules to see how it goes.

    • 78mu - Aug 25, 2014 at 1:21 PM

      Pat Jordan’s recent article about the rarity of the big overhand curve has a clue about the length of games today. Back when Jordan pitched the umpires called a pitch at the letters a strike instead of today where anything above the belt is a ball. Plus the mound was lowered.

      If people want to see 2 hour games it will probably come with guys winning the batting championship with a 301 batting average and a lot of 1-0 and 2-1 scores.

      • Paper Lions - Aug 25, 2014 at 2:58 PM

        It wasn’t just that they called it…back then, that was a strike, now it is not. The definition of the strike zone in the rule book has changed multiple times.

      • gloccamorra - Aug 26, 2014 at 12:19 PM

        After the high scoring 1987 season, the strike zone was enlarged to include the 1″ black strip around the plate, and suddenly, umpires started paying attention. MLB may need to reverse that, just to see the umpires squeeze the pitchers and make them throw hittable strikes. It’s not just the zone, but the umpires’ interpretation of it that’s in play.

    • asimonetti88 - Aug 25, 2014 at 1:23 PM

      I know most everyone here has an irrational hatred of the NFL, but they do have a good thing going with testing potential rule changes in the preseason. It gives some empirical data when considering making major rule changes which will certainly impact the way the game is played. Imagine if they had tested the collision rules before implementing them. Perhaps they could have found ways to avoid the issues with it.

  2. pr0phet4 - Aug 25, 2014 at 11:42 AM

    I feel like this would give pitchers a colossal advantage over hitters. You’d see batting titles won with .250 averages.

    No thanks.

    • happytwinsfan - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:02 PM

      I don’t know about that. a 1 – 0 count would be like a 2-0 count is now and 2-0 would be like 3-0. Getting a first pitch strike would be about twice as important as it is now and the hitters would know it. the advantage would be all theirs until it got to the second strike. If a foul with two strikes was an out, you’d see a lot of 2-2 takes, leaving a lot up the umpire, which whichever way it went wouldn’t be good.

    • SocraticGadfly - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:44 PM

      Agreed. Especially back in the 80s, when more batters still new how to foul off borderline strikes. It would speed up games, and we’d have a bunch of late 1960s 1-0 results.

  3. purple4life2 - Aug 25, 2014 at 11:43 AM

    Boo. Simplify it, it doesn’t have to be that complicated.

    How about pitchers are on a clock count between pitches AND batters have to keep at least 1 foot in the box between pitches? These guys don’t need to take a lap around the on deck circle every pitch.

    • esracerx46 - Aug 25, 2014 at 11:48 AM

      You mean simply enforce the 2 rules on record? Genius!

      • purple4life2 - Aug 25, 2014 at 11:56 AM

        Well they don’t enforce them at any level of MLB. So how would the average fan presume it was an actual rule anymore? Rules are only rules if they are enforced. Since they aren’t, hard to believe they are still in the rule book.

        Probably more of an indictment on MLB than a suggestion posed on the site donkey.

      • esracerx46 - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:26 PM

        Craig wrote a fine piece exactly 1 week ago on said rules

    • asox - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:11 PM

      The problem with a pitch clock is that a base runner can always just take off as the clock is expiring knowing the pitcher needs to throw to home, and if the pitcher throwing to the bag resets the clock, tat defeats the purpose of the clock.

      That said, a pitch clock that is used only when the bases are empty might be a good idea.

      • hackerjay - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:25 PM

        The pitch clock would only be in effect if the bases are empty. At least, I believe that’s how the current rule works.

      • esracerx46 - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:26 PM

        *how its supposed to work

      • SocraticGadfly - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:45 PM

        Again, yes, what Hacker said. Let’s have people actually read both 6.02 and 8.04 before comments.

      • Jack Glasscock's Cup - Aug 25, 2014 at 1:07 PM

        and, to add to the gadfly’s post, 8.05 would be in effect if there are runners on base; i.e., the umpire can call a balk if the pitcher is unnecessarily delaying the game.

    • lawrinson20 - Aug 25, 2014 at 1:02 PM

      Plus, pitching substitutions need to happen instantaneously. The call goes out, and the pitcher needs to be on the mound in a certain amt of time, either by jogging in, or by cart. Three quick warmup pitches, and rocknroll.

      Batters have to stop that Nomaresque adjusting of the gloves after every pitch. Does Velcro really need to be re fastened after each slight movement?

      But, whatever. I don’t hear actual baseball fans complaining about the lengths of games. If soccer can have a trillion fans not complain about zero-zero games of nothing but kicking and komplaining, I think baseball is safe.

      • simon94022 - Aug 25, 2014 at 2:05 PM

        1. Lots of people on this blog and other forums complain about length of games, and presumably they are actual baseball fans. I am an actual baseball fan, and pretty hard core one, and I find three and a half hour 9 inning games boring beyond all comprehension.

        2. Even if most current baseball fans are ok with the length of games, that’s not really the point, is it? The concern is for the huge number of people who are not fans now but might be, if not for their perception that baseball games are too long and slow paced.

  4. johnnysoda - Aug 25, 2014 at 11:46 AM

    Or maybe pitchers could just pitch faster. Or managers could stop changing pitchers for every batter late in the game.

  5. miguelcairo - Aug 25, 2014 at 11:46 AM

    I’m sorry, but this sounds terrible. It would be a completely different game.

  6. koufaxmitzvah - Aug 25, 2014 at 11:52 AM

    How about shorter commercial time between innings?

    How about a replay system that doesn’t spend minutes trying to overturn a call with impossible to see without freeze framing from multiple angles whether the throw/tag just did beat the runner or not?

    And while I’m at it, how about some double headers to lighten the scheduling load and to give back to the baseball loving community? One date per month, alternating home and away…..

    • bfunk1978 - Aug 25, 2014 at 11:59 AM

      The pace of game stuff (for the most part) is a TV complaint as it is – if you shorten it at the cost of ad revenue they’d really howl.

    • larrymahnken - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:15 PM

      The pace of game is the issue, not the time of game. Reporters may complain about a long game, but fans don’t really, so long as the game itself moves at a decent pace.

      Fans will complain about the pitcher stepping off, or the batter stepping out, or a throw over to first, or infielders talking to the pitcher to stall for time for a relief pitcher. I don’t think any fan will ever complain “That mid-inning break was 15 seconds longer than it should have been!” It’s a mid-inning break, you’re not waiting for anything to happen. It’s 15 seconds longer to grab a beer without missing anything.

      I would recommend:

      1) Enforce 6.02(d)(1) strictly. Umpires shall be directed to be conservative in granting time out.
      2) Enforce Rule 8.04 strictly.
      3) Give relief pitchers more warmup pitches when they come into a game, so that a manager rarely has to “stall” for time. It won’t extend the game significantly, but it will change dead time when something *could* be happening into commercial time when nobody is waiting for anything to happen.

      Basically change the dead time into the same kind of dead time the NFL has – expected dead time. There’s as much dead time in an NFL game as there in an MLB game, but it’s at predictable times, making the game *seem* faster.

      • koufaxmitzvah - Aug 25, 2014 at 1:42 PM

        I don’t have a problem with the pace of baseball. Sitting at the stadium watching the pitchers warm up doesn’t bother me. Football, on the other hand, is frustrating. Commercials after kick-offs are frustrating, especially when they number up to 5. The 2-3 minutes it takes to go from kicking off to the start of the drive is just flat out ridiculous. So we obviously have different impressions of the pace of the game. Maybe it’s because I see baseball as a thinking match and football as one of pure muscle action? I dunno, but everything you said makes sense to me in the opposite direction.

      • Senor Cardgage - Aug 25, 2014 at 2:06 PM

        I’m not sure everyone realizes this, but 6.02(d)(1) (requiring the batter to stay in the box) is a minor league rule. In order for it to be enforced in the Major Leagues, it would first have to be enacted there.

    • misterschmo - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:27 PM

      Replay=good, Time dragging on during replay=bad. Put a bluetooth gizmo on the crew chief and let the NY armchair refs talk to him without the whole clear-the-field-and-act-like-they’re-waiting-for-election-results thing.

      • simon94022 - Aug 25, 2014 at 2:20 PM

        Yes – this seems pretty obvious to me, but apparently to the folks at MLB who set up the current circus system it is not.

    • SocraticGadfly - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:46 PM

      Shorter commercial time is never, ever happening.

      Doubleheaders aren’t, either, certainly not classic twin bills sold as one ticket, which I’m old enough to have attended.

      • koufaxmitzvah - Aug 25, 2014 at 1:35 PM

        None of this is going to happen, but if all is fair in Grand Ideas, then the idea of a classic twin bill doubleheader will help both fans and players’ schedule. With markets introducing a strength of schedule ticket price system (i.e. gouging the good games) it won’t completely mess with the intake.

        A full day at the ballpark is a great promotion. What ownership loses in some ticket sales (but, really, their losses will be coming more from parking fees) they make up in good will with the players and fans.

      • simon94022 - Aug 25, 2014 at 2:32 PM

        I’d love regularly scheduled doubleheaders, but they were designed to solve a problem that no longer exists: Too many tickets available for not enough ticket buyers.

        Up until the early 80s, most teams regularly drew 10,000 or less for weeknight games and depending on big Saturday and Sunday attendance to boost revenue. So trading a Thursday night game for a Sunday doubleheader made sense.

        Today a majority of teams average over 30,000 per game, and several (St. Louis, Boston, San Francisco, LA Dodgers) are able to sell virtually every available ticket, every season. Why would they offer a 2 for 1 special?

  7. happytwinsfan - Aug 25, 2014 at 11:53 AM

    He’s certainly right about the pitch count. Teams might go back to 10 man pitching staffs, creating space for two or three more pinch hitting – pinch running options, which in turn might make managers more often start the better glove over the better bat because they have a good pinch hitter option should their good glove / bad bat guy come up with runners on. of course the quality of one’s starting pitching would be even more important than it is now. And it would definitely effect both the hitter’s and the pitcher’s approach to each at bat, exactly how who knows.

    Shortening the game might be one of the least of it’s consequences.

  8. rbts2014 - Aug 25, 2014 at 11:54 AM

    lower the mound back down to the 1960’s height, fewer slugfests, quicker games. Also cut back the between innings from 2m30s or 3m to 2 mins. Of course neither of these two ideas will fly because tv needs longer timeframe for commercials and fans want to see offense not pitching domination.

    As long as the game is 3h’ish, I’m fine with the speed of the game as is. 3h30m or 4h is too long to me.

    • sophiethegreatdane - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:09 PM

      I think you meant to say, raise the mound to where it was in the 60’s. However, I feel like the last thing we need right now is more strikeouts.

  9. sophiethegreatdane - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:01 PM

    I don’t care about the length of the game, so much as the pace of play. A faster pace will go a long way towards making the game a little more interesting (especially to newer viewers that MLB is looking to adopt) and that will, in the long run, make games somewhat shorter. No one (except fans) seems to care about reducing the number of commercials, so that won’t be addressed as a way to speed things up.

    Reduce the time between pitches (whether to use a clock or not, I don’t care — but let’s enforce the rule that’s on the books)
    Keep the batters from leaving the batting box after every single pitch (again, enforce the rule)
    Do something to speed up (and maybe even limit) pitching changes

    Those three things would go a long way towards the goal of shortening the games, and they don’t radically change the fundamentals of the game like making three balls a walk, or whatever other nonsense people recommend.

    • Jack Glasscock's Cup - Aug 25, 2014 at 1:11 PM

      there is a rule (I forget which one and I’m too lazy to look it up) that says that relief pitchers have one minute to throw their warm-up pitches. That would cut about 10 minutes off of most games without changing anything of significance about baseball.

  10. brewcrewfan54 - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:06 PM

    I still don’t have a prblem with 3-hour games. That’s 3 solid hours of beer drinking I get to do while watching a game and team I enjoy.

  11. realgone2 - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:28 PM

    Horrible idea. How about we stop pitchers taking their time between pitches and batters taking a pitch and yet still having to adjust their batting gloves? Watching Josh Beckett pitch is like the Bataan Death March of pitching performances.

  12. simon94022 - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:43 PM

    A modified form of this rule would be okay: Once the batter has two strikes on him, he would be allowed 3 fouls and the third one would be Strike Three.

  13. simon94022 - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:47 PM

    Traditionalists will argue that this will alter baseball as we know it.

    There is nothing traditional about a 9 inning game that lasts 3 hours or longer, with hitters stepping out of the box and fiddling with their batting gloves before every pitch, pitchers shaking off signs for 2-3 minutes between pitches, and 5 or 6 relievers used by each team.

    • jc4455 - Aug 25, 2014 at 1:21 PM

      Nailed it. A baseball game should be an event that can be consumed by a normal person in a single sitting. Is there anyone on the planet who can sit and watch a 3 hour baseball game? I suppose, but we shouldn’t let those people get in the way of reform. It should be movie length – 1:45 to 2:00. Truly epic games can go 2:30 or longer.

  14. wheels579 - Aug 25, 2014 at 1:23 PM

    Let’s keep coming up with ideas to ruin baseball for the folks who actually support it in order to try to woo folks who simply do not enjoy it. The NFL is attempting to do just that with their international fetish and their popularity in this country is sky high. Not everyone likes baseball – deal with it. Or start with eliminating the 2-3 minute breaks between innings and find another way to generate ad revenue. Like soccer – another sport people here don’t like. Non-stop action for two 45 min intervals that folks here support with less zeal than baseball.

    • jc4455 - Aug 25, 2014 at 1:33 PM

      There aren’t only two types of people in the world – those that love it exactly as it is and those that just don’t enjoy it – as you state. Lots of people kind of like it and would like more (or possibly less) if were tweaked in certain ways. The game has actually changed a lot in the last few decades in terms of game length. Changing it with an eye to return to shorter games is actually getting back to what it used to be.

    • simon94022 - Aug 25, 2014 at 3:17 PM

      For the first half of the 20th century, 9 inning games rarely crossed the 2 hour mark. The Phillies and Giants actually played a full game in 51 minutes. In 1920 a Dodgers-Braves game lasted 3:50 … but it went 26 innings, the longest in MLB history. Today, that game would probably take 7 hours to complete.

      Immediately after World War II, with the arrival of television, average game time jumped to about 2:30, and stayed at that level every year (give or take 5 or 6 minutes in either direction) until the early 1980s.

      Starting in the 80s, players like Mike “Human Rain Delay” Hargrove began using delay of game as a deliberate tactic — and getting away with it. At the same time teams began to realize the value of using multiple relievers in a game, drawing walks, and taking or fouling off pitches to raise the opposing pitcher’s pitch count.

      All of this has had the cumulative effect of slowing the game down, changing its nature, and narrowing its appeal. Rules changes that address these issues would not “ruin” the game. They would preserve it and help it to thrive.

  15. sawxalicious - Aug 25, 2014 at 2:00 PM

    How about add an umpire to each crew. Give him a stopwatch and have him enforce the time limit rules. That would be his only job. Problem solved.

  16. thepopeofchilitown444 - Aug 25, 2014 at 2:22 PM

    Beer league softball rules! In and out in 60 minutes with plenty of time to hit the bar!

  17. tn16 - Aug 25, 2014 at 3:20 PM

    That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard

  18. crillbill - Aug 25, 2014 at 3:22 PM

    I think they should just give the pitcher 10-15 seconds to throw the pitch once he gets it in his glove. Make the batter unable to step out. That would quicken play. Also IBB should not be pitched. Just take the base already. It’s like the extra point. Also umpires should lose balls and strikes and let computer run it. All of this would speed the game up.

  19. yahmule - Aug 25, 2014 at 7:17 PM

    George Carlin sports rule changes.

  20. atwatercrushesokoye - Aug 25, 2014 at 9:55 PM

    3 hours? that gets you to the bottom of the fourth in a mid May Red Sox v Yankees game, if both teams are in it in September, or the playoffs, 3 hours get’s you to the middle of the third.

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