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At Long, Long, Long Last, Some Baseball Conclusions

Nov. 10, 2009
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The Observers weren't around when baseball was invented; their old-school grumbling just sounds that way. Still, they've combined for more than a century's worth of devotion to the game, and that entitles them to pontificate on the lessons from the just-completed World Series.

Frank: There's no need to say anything, pal...

Artie: Oh yes there is. Fire them all! And also, "Paging Mr. Bill Cowher. Mr. Cowher, please call Green Bay."

Frank: You speak, of course, about the 4-4 Packers and their loss to lowly Tampa Bay. But I'm talking baseball here, and I can sense your joy over my Yankees' return to the throne.

Artie: Yeah, I'm thrilled that Alex Rodriguez, admitted steroid user and liar about it, will get a 5-pound hunk of "Never Mind" for his ring finger.

Frank: To say nothing of Andy Pettitte, repentant user of human growth hormone. We'll talk more in future columns about how "mea culpas" can save a career, and what that might mean for guys like Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire.

Artie: But for now I say this: Whoever created the World Series didn't want it going into freakin' November!

Frank: The regular season ended Oct. 4 and the World Series ended on Nov. 4. In that period both the Yankees and the Phillies had 15 games and 16 days off.

Artie: In the spring and summer they get three or four days off per month. But in the fall, as the weather gets colder, two Northeastern teams get two weeks off? It’s nuts.

Frank: Everyone knows why: TV wants to space things out. Commissioner Bud Selig can only resume his pose from the 2002 All-Star Game fiasco—shrugging his shoulders as if to say, “What can I do?”

Artie: They were lucky the weather wasn't worse. It'll be really ridiculous when we have my dream World Series of Minnesota-Colorado—the Winter Parka Series—now that the Twins will be outdoors in their new stadium. They're all set now that they’ve got their shortstop, J.J. Hardy, from the Brewers.

Frank: More about that later. But yeah, I guess Major League Baseball wasn’t embarrassed by those silly ear-flap caps the Phillies and Rays wore last year.

Artie: FOX knows best. You just can’t postpone an episode of “House” or "Bones" for a ballgame.

Frank: MLB could shorten the calendar by going back to a 154-game season or scheduling double-headers. But the owners gotta have 162 games, one by one, so they can wring every penny out of Joe Fan. And players won't give up eight games’ worth of salary.

Artie: So put day/night double-headers on the schedule, say five per team. You’d cut a week off the season.

Frank: The union would squawk. The only player willing to say "Let's play two" is Ernie Banks, and he's 78.

Artie: It's just screwy, and the screw-ees are the shivering fans.

Frank: And the fans at home, especially kids, who go to sleep long before postseason games end. TV tolerates a bare minimum of day games in the first two rounds, but none in the World Series. If those games end at midnight in the East, even though they moved the first pitch up a half-hour this year, so what?

Artie: I read that the last World Series game in sunshine was in 1984; there was one in ’87 inside the Metrodome. Selig talks about wanting a day game but he has no leverage.

Frank: FOX doesn’t give a damn about the kids. They don’t buy cars and beer…

Artie: And Viagra. Speaking of which, how many extra commercials do they have to pack into the playoffs?

Frank: By contract, there’s a minimum of 2 minutes 55 seconds for every half-inning changeover. That’s 30 seconds more than national games in the regular season.

Artie: So that’s about 9 minutes more every game. But these playoff games last at least half an hour longer than usual, ain’a?

Frank: There were 31 games played after Oct. 4 and only one came in under 3 hours. Not counting the four extra-inning games, the first two rounds averaged about 3 1/2 hours. The World Series averaged 3:25 until the last game, which went 3:52. Regular-season games averaged around 2:50.

Artie: I'd love to compare that to a 1967 World Series game that Bob Gibson pitched.

Frank: Glad you mentioned it. This year's final game had a 7-3 score and took 3:52. In 1967 Gibson won Game 7 for St. Louis over Boston by a score of 7-2, and the game took 2:23.

Artie: An hour and a half less, for cripes’ sake!

Frank: And an hour less than this year’s Game 1, when Cliff Lee went the distance at a brisk pace.

Artie: Everything that’s slow about normal games gets worse in the playoffs. It seems like every pitch takes forever, every hitter steps out of the box, every base runner draws five throws.

Frank: You exaggerate, but they could do things to speed it up. Truly enforce the existing rules on time between pitches and keeping batters in the box. Limit catchers' visits to the mound and pitchers' throws to first. And my favorite: Have the umpires call letter-high strikes, which the rules call for. Make batters swing more!

Artie: And raise the damn mound! They lowered it in 1969 because Gibson and his pals were so good. Reverse things and maybe today's pitchers will learn how to throw strikes.

And One More Time…

Frank: This postseason also showed the need for more extensive use of replay to review umpires' calls.

Artie: Which Selig opposes because he's worried about hurting the "pace" of games.

Frank: What pace? I'd say the pace is glacial, but I think the glaciers are receding faster than ballgames are progressing.

Artie: What's the difference between the time it takes to look at replay and what it takes for a manager to storm the field?

Frank: The World Series had a good example of the one thing Selig allows replay for—a "boundary" call on a potential home run. It took very little time for the umps to see that A-Rod's drive hit a camera over the fence.

Artie: It took about five seconds for the TV audience to see that the foul-line call in the Twins-Yankees series was wrong. Why not let the umps have a way to avoid being ridiculed forever on ESPN?

Frank: Give managers red rosin bags to throw in a challenge...

Artie: Or a flare gun. That'd liven things up.

Frank: Or have an extra official in the press box who sees replays quickly and can alert the umps if there's a problem. I don't want to review ball-strike calls, or maybe even bang-bang plays at first base, because there are just too many. But for tag plays, foul-line calls, trap-or-catch, why not have the option of replay?

A Hardy Farewell

Artie: So Hardy went to the Twins for young centerfielder Carlos Gomez. Which means the Brewers are done with Mike Cameron, who made $10 million this year, and will use that money to get pitching. And in getting Gomez, who's been a leadoff hitter, they're letting Felipe Lopez go, too.

Frank: Although they apparently still see Rickie Weeks in the leadoff spot.

Artie: I'm worried about the loss of Cameron's defense, but Gomez was highly touted with the Mets before going to Minnesota in the Johan Santana deal. He hasn't hit, though—a career .246 average and an awful .292 on-base figure.

Frank: He's been a pretty good base-stealer. Maybe with him and Weeks and Corey Hart and Alcides Escobar, the Brewers plan to run more.

Artie: They could hardly run less; just 68 steals this year. So now they'll use Cameron/Lopez money to get pitching from that great free-agent array of 35- and 36-year olds with mediocre records. A washed-up Jarrod Washburn, anyone?

Frank: Your classic pessimism is showing.

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