McGrath: Major League Baseball tortoise losing to NFL hare
By David McGrath November 1, 2013 9:16PM
Updated: December 4, 2013 6:06AM
The Boston Red Sox’s win over the St. Louis Cardinals in this year’s World Series brought sublime joy to its deserving sports fans, who had suffered a painful year following the terrorist bombing at the Boston Marathon.
And I hope the 109th Series also serves as a shot in the arm to Major League Baseball, which may require even more resuscitation.
For baseball has become like Congress — nobody seems able to make a decision — and the game just moves too darn slowly.
During the first game, there was a really bad call at second base on a forceout, with the Cardinal shortstop never catching the ball, and the umpire calling the runner out. That led to a huge argument by the Red Sox, and all six umpires consulted with one another for what seemed forever before reversing the call.
As the arguing dragged on, I seriously wondered, my hand clutching the remote control, whether I should remain patient for something good to happen or should shut down the whole shebang.
I love baseball. It has been part of the fabric of my life, as much as family birthdays, Sunday newspapers and Fourth of July picnics. As kids, my five brothers and I and our friends played pickup baseball at Beverly Park throughout the summer for six to seven hours a day. We filled a gallon-sized glass milk jug with ice water and packed baloney and mustard sandwiches in wax paper bags so we wouldn’t have to halt a game for lunch.
But professional baseball is getting harder to endure. I should not reference the cliche of watching paint dry, for paint does not spit or scratch or grouse about million-dollar paychecks.
I watched pitcher Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals, who earned $12 million in 2013 and can fire a baseball at about 95 mph. He got in trouble, loading the bases in the first inning of the opening game. He wipes his forehead. Punches his glove. Licks the thumb on his throwing hand. Leans over to interpret signals from the catcher. Shakes his head. Peers side to side. Gets ready to throw.
But suddenly, just when you think, my god, finally something’s gotta give, the Red Sox hitter holds up his hand, calls time out, steps out of the box and makes everyone do all the same things over again.
I will gladly concede a moment or two for anyone to contemplate a decision, say between vanilla and chocolate ice cream, or, in this case, between a changeup and a slider. But enduring the same agonizing routine prior to each of the approximately 250 pitches per game is excessive and absurd.
MLB defends itself with the claim that baseball does not have a game clock, its pace deliberately leisurely and contemplative. The confrontation between hitter and pitcher is at its core, so the pitcher needs to think carefully on each pitch and the man at bat needs to step away and collect himself after each one.
To which I say, hogwash. No, wait, Peyton Manning says hogwash. The Denver Broncos’ quarterback, the National Football League’s premier player at that all-important position, fires bullet-like passes to his wide receivers, who focus on the ball knowing that they’re about to be crushed to the frozen ground by a 260-pound linebacker.
Yet up they all spring — no adjusting an undergarment or collecting oneself on the gridiron — and Manning barks an order that calls his offense into instant and precise formation, while the 11 opposing defenders promptly follow suit and the center hikes the ball, igniting another play.
That’s 22 extra large and elite athletes sustaining action at a pace brusque enough for me to require a DVR with a pause button to catch a breather or visit the restroom.
Maybe that’s the reason, according to a recent Harris Poll, that football is America’s most popular sport. Or why the National Sporting Goods Industry Association recently announced that the number of kids playing baseball has fallen by 24 percent during the last 10 years.
Baseball has gotten too slow, and kids are bored. They’re switching to hockey and football and rock bands.
As for me, I’m no kid anymore, and I stuck with this year’s Series until the end. “Breaking Bad” had aired its last episode, so there wasn’t much else. And I still had some baloney left in the fridge.
David McGrath, a former resident of Evergreen Park and Oak Forest, is an emeritus professor of English at the College of DuPage.