Feschuk: Relax, baseball’s finally calmed down

Illustration by Kagan McLeod

Just when you thought the frenetic pace of MLB action was too much for your heart to take…

Did you catch the exciting news about baseball? They’ve finally found a way to slow it down! You heard right—the expansion of video replay has at long last provided spectators with a brief respite from the non-stop, pulse-pounding, three-and-a-half-hour thrill ride that is a regular-season MLB game.

Here’s how it works: A close play transpires on the field. For the sake of illustration, let’s say a runner is called out at second base.

The manager emerges from the dugout and walks slowly, ever so slowly, toward the second-base umpire. Why is this man walking so slowly? He’s buying time so other team officials can review the tape and determine whether the play is worth challenging. Also, he’s pretty winded from those three steps up out of the dugout.

The manager’s mosey continues. Is that a weed in the infield? He should probably bend over and pick that weed. This is a great opportunity for fans at home to run to—and thoroughly renovate—the bathroom.

After a brief pause at first base to inquire about a wine recommendation, the manager ambles on toward the umpire, who in the interim has divorced, remarried and started a new career as a home inspector. His replacement awaits. The conversation goes something like this.

Manager: So I’m out here about that call at second base, and I guess the question on my mind is…  [steals a glance back to the dugout and sees they’re still reviewing the video] …um, do you moisturize? Because, golly, you’re out in the sun all day and yet your skin still exhibits a supple radiance. Me, I find that aloe tends to—

Umpire: [Dies of old age.]

Upon receiving a thumbs-up from the dugout, the manager formally challenges the call with the umpire’s next of kin. The ensuing review of the video takes somewhere between two minutes and all of time that ever has been and ever will be.

The most thrilling reviews so far this season have centred on the so-called “transfer rule”—specifically, what constitutes an official catch on an attempted force out. Did the ball fall to the ground ultimately or did it fall to the ground eventually? These reviews have been so exciting that fans in the ballpark almost looked up from their iPhones.

Yes, there are downsides to the expanded use of replay. Having a formal mechanism for challenging calls is endangering one of baseball’s greatest traditions: The Pointless Manager Tirade. Frankly, I’m worried about where Ron Gardenhire is channelling his anger these days. I’d hate to be the McDonald’s guy who forgets to put the sweet-and-sour sauce in with his McNuggets.

Still, all in all, the new replay system is a great first step toward slowing down the game we all know and tolerate thanks to beer. But let’s not stop there. More can be done to imbue baseball with the kind of verve, energy and raw dynamism we get from a ballad by the Smiths. Here are just a few suggestions.

—MLB should further expand replay to allow managers to challenge balls and strikes, potential balks and the time of day. “I don’t care what your fancy wristwatch says, Capt. Casio—it feels like 2:30 p.m. out here!”

—Mandatory playing of “Sweet Caroline” after every called strike.

—An inning can’t start until every single fan is sitting quietly in his or her seat.

—When a guy strikes out, let’s institute an automatic 30-second pause so everyone who has him in fantasy baseball can tweet that he’s a USELESS DEADBEAT who’s RUINING MY TEAM ON PURPOSE.

—Maybe give batters a mulligan on those groundouts?

—Watching the umpires catch Michael Pineda with pine tar on his neck was fun—let’s have them gently touch every pitcher.

—After a single or a walk, the pitcher is not allowed to begin his windup until the baserunner and first baseman have finished talking. 

This story originally appeared in Sportsnet magazine. Subscribe here.

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