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Times are slow but don’t mess with baseball

Here we are in February — that no-man’s land in the world of sports when nothing of any real significance is going on.

The Super Bowl is but a distant memory*, baseball training camp is a few weeks off and the NBA playoffs aren’t until April, which means the players won’t start really trying until late March. It is a barren, Godless time in our nation’s newspaper sports departments.

Here are the month’s top stories so far:



— A high school senior is suspended from his basketball team for accepting two jerseys from a sports memorabilia store — both of which are too big to even wear.

— The Detroit Lions hire a head coach.




— Cory Feldman (“Goonies,” “Lost Boys”) announces that he is to be married on TV.

That last one isn’t really sports, but it just goes to show you how slow things are. Why, last night in desperation I even watched the NHL All-Star Game. They need to invent a new sport or something because this month just stinks.

Oh wait, here’s something: Major League Baseball may change a few of its rules.

The main bone of contention at the winter meetings had to do with intentional walks. Why was Barry Bonds receiving so many of them, thus ticking off the paying fans who paid to see him not walk? Commissioner Bud Selig looked into this and didn’t like what he found.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Bonds actually had more home runs than swings during the 2002 season.

How this is possible, no one is sure, but it illustrates how few times pitchers threw it over the plate when Bonds was up.

Bonds was intentionally walked 198 times last season and, combined with his 132 other walks, that spells big trouble for MLB. Why would one want to turn on the television to watch a 40-year-old man trot 90 feet and stand on a pillow? I can see that any day at the park, provided I bring the pillow. But that’s what baseball has become.

When you think of the greatest home run hitters of yesteryear, you think of Babe Ruth calling his shot, or Hank Aaron hitting No. 715 as some deranged hippie runs onto the field to try and get into the camera shot. But when you think of today’s sluggers, all you get is the image of Mark McGwire being intentionally walked; Sammy Sosa taking four unhittable pitches low and outside and Bonds trotting to first and removing his elaborate elbow protector. Shuffleboard is more exciting than that.

Imagine if you had this concept in other sports. Say Ricky Williams is having a great season. So when you play the Miami Dolphins, you can opt not to have to tackle him. Every time Williams gets the ball, the whistle blows and the Dolphins get an automatic three yards. Then you go on to second down.

So Selig had this brainstorm — why not make the intentional walk illegal? You have to pitch to Bonds. There! That’ll fix things. So MLB is looking into this. Our question is, what’s to stop teams from just pitching around him? If there’s a rule that says you have to throw strikes, the Phillies would have to be disbanded. And poor Livan Hernandez would never last an inning.

Clearly the problem needs further study. But here’s another rule change that Selig is pondering: institution of instant replay. Yes, MLB is seriously considering using this technology, but only to determine if a ball is fair or foul.

That’s where it will start, but you know that before long you’ll see Tony La Russa tossing the red flag out of the dugout and the home plate umpire looking under the replay hood for two minutes to determine if it really was a foul tip. That’s just what we need.

Unless you count golf or tennis, and believe me I don’t, baseball really is the last major sport where technology doesn’t interfere.

There’s no timer as there is in basketball, football or hockey. No instant replay to determine results. The umpire’s decision is law, and it’s final, unless of course he makes some sort of anti-Semitic remark and then the courts will decide.

We say keep baseball exactly the way it is, with intentional walks intact, without technology sticking its nose in where it doesn’t belong and with Pete Rose showing up every month or so in yet another vain attempt to get into the Hall of Fame.

That’s what baseball means to me. Thanks, folks, see you later — it’s time for “Celebrity Mole.”

* = distance may vary for Barrett Robbins.

Rick Chandler’s interactive sports column, Capacity Crowd, can be found at NBCSports.com. Contact him at RickChand@earthlink.net


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