At the risk of sounding like a “get off my lawn” Baby Boom geezer, does eliminating the four-pitch intentional walk seem like anything more than a cosmetic change to the baseball rule book that won’t really solve the pace of game concerns?
As Scott Simon said on NPR this weekend, such a move might eliminate about 15 seconds. In my youth softball league 40-plus years ago we did this, and it was more about the lack of skill of kids than anything else.
I understand the owners want to attract younger fans who don’t sit still for anything longer than, say, 15 seconds, but these are the same owners who approved the replay rule that has been a real drag on pace of play.
News, Views and Reviews About Sports Books, History and Culture
Also In This Issue: PEN Sports Writing Awards; Liberal Sportswriters, Continued; NASCAR’s Troubles; Remembering Bernie Custis
Getting rid of intentional walks may have been a minor, risk-free way for owners to test the waters of the public (and more importantly, the players’ union) for more significant proposals to change the rules.
Yet change comes slowly, some think too slowly, in baseball. It’s been more than 40 years since the designated hitter rule, one that the National League (thankfully!) has refused to embrace. Divisional play in the last decade has jazzed-up late-season playoff races, but the wild card game remains controversial.
So did a provision, ditched in December, that gave home-field advantage in the World Series to the team representing the league that won the All-Star game. Instead, the Fall Classic team with the best record earns that right, as was the case for decades until 2002.
Changes in any sport are inevitable, and baseball hasn’t been exempt. But I’m not sure commissioner Rob Manfred and the owners really thought through this one. If you’re going to make a change, have a really good reason to do it. If nothing else, they’ve got fans, the media and the baseball community chattering about change, which may have been part of their reasoning all along.
Even some young stars wonder about the meddling. Kris Bryant, the National League MVP of the World Series champion Chicago Cubs, thinks the game is fine the way it is. So does Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves: “I’m a young guy, but I like old-school baseball.”
‘Indentured,’ Bill Nack Honored by PEN
The authors of a fresh probe of the lucrative world of college athletics have been honored by the PEN American Center with the 2017 Literary Sports Writing Award. “Indentured,” by Joe Nocera and Ben Strauss, examines court cases challenging the amateur status of the NCAA. including the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit that has resulted in limited stipends for some college athletes, and efforts by football players at Northwestern to unionize (here’s Sports Biblio’s review of the book, from last March).
The 2017 PEN winner for Lifetime Achievement in Literary Sports Writing is Sports Illustrated legend Bill Nack, who’s also written for many other publications. In this 2015 Q & A with SI, he talked about his work, especially about Secretariat and his iconic writing about horse racing.
Sports Media and Politics, Redux
I’ve got nothing new to add to my newsletter thoughts last week about the hot new topic in sports media: liberal sportswriters. I got some interesting feedback from readers, some of whom didn’t want to go public, but it’s good to know I’m not alone in my sentiments about the profession. In response to the Bryan Curtis piece that triggered this discussion, conservative writer Michael Brendan Dougherty, an editor for the baseball newsletter The Slurve, called out those writers who show contempt for their readers.
While I’m not a conservative and I don’t agree with everything Dougherty wrote, it’s one of the best articulations I’ve read countering the “woke” trend of political-minded sportswriters who insist in injecting subject matter into their work that most readers don’t give a damn about.
A Few Good Reads
- Economics and demographics have caught up with NASCAR, which is getting less from Monster Beverage Corp., its new circuit-wide sponsor, than what it was asking, and far less than previous sponsor Sprint;
- I don’t have a whole lot of places left on my bucket left to visit, but if I ever get back to Kansas City, the Negro Leagues Museum would definitely make that list. It’s recently been renovated and has reopened to visitors;
- The Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri has given out awards for sports photography as part of its Picture of the Year International program, with first place going to Joseph Swide. His montage “Presidio Modelo” (at right) features a teenage baseball pitcher in Cuba against a backdrop of the Presidio Modelo, the political prison where Fidel Castro was held in the 1950s;
- The Staten Island Advance dug up and published some terrific black-and-white shots of girls high school basketball in the 1960s and 1970s, in the days right before Title IX. Younger women today may shudder, but those “pinnie” uniforms were standard for girls in competitive sports as well as gym class. Thanks for this link goes to a friend of mine, Staten Island native Cathy Andruzzi, who’s also featured in this gallery. She played on the famed Queens College women’s teams of the 1970s and had a long career as a college coach, broadcaster and entrepreneur. Currently she teaches in the new graduate global sports business program at Rutgers.
Bernie Custis, 88, the first black quarterback in modern professional football to play on a regular basis in North America, made his Canadian Football League debut in 1951 with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Fritz Pollard played sparingly at quarterback for the Akron Pros in the very nascent NFL in the 1920s and later was the league’s first African-American coach.
Blacks were virtually absent from the NFL from 1934 to 1946, at the behest of George Preston Marshall, owner of the Washington Redskins. George Taliaferro was a utility back and three-time All-Pro for the New York Giants in the early 1950s and Willie Thrower played briefly at QB for the Bears in 1953.
Custis, who starred at QB at Syracuse, opted for Canada when the Cleveland Browns, who drafted him, wanted to convert him to defensive back. He also played running back for the Tiger-Cats in their 1953 Grey Cup championship season, later coached in Canadian lower leagues and is a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
The Sports Biblio Digest is an e-mail newsletter delivered each Sunday. It contains commentary and links about sports books and history. You can subscribe here and search the archives. This is Digest issue No. 73, published Feb. 26, 2017. The Digest is a companion to the Sports Biblio website.
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