Slow Play is a Baseball Problem, Not a Yankee Problem

Complaints are pointed in the wrong direction

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Getty Images

    It took less time to tell the entire story of the Corleone Family than it took to play the first three games of the 2010 Yankees season, something that has raised the ire of Cowboy Joe West, crew chief for umpires assigned to work those games.

    West normally makes headlines by being an antagonistic and not particularly competent arbiter of baseball games, but on Thursday he grabbed them by calling the Red Sox and Yankees "pathetic and embarrassing" for refusing to play shorter games.

    With two teams that always seem to have men on base and boast lineups filled with selective hitters who see more pitches than normal, long games are unavoidable. Mariano Rivera addressed that when he responded to West's comments.

    "It's incredible. If he has places to go, let him do something else. What does he want us to do, swing at balls?"

    Fair point, but Rivera isn't addressing the whole issue. Within that framework, though, there are ways that things could speed up. Derek Jeter's constant fiddling with his gloves and David Ortiz's spitting habit are totally unnecessary and do nothing but make watching some of these games more of a chore than a joy.

    Even if those epithets are far too harsh, that's why it's hard to totally disagree with West.

    The Sox and Yankees play games that take eons, sometimes for justifiable reasons (Sunday night's high-scoring affair) and sometimes, see Tuesday night, because they seem to have been drawn up in a medieval torture chamber. The latter ones need to be avoided because it's better for fans and better for the game.  

    West's major complaint is that neither team is willing to work with the umpires to make things better. That's a foolish whine that attempts to absolve the umpires of any responsibility. They call the pitches balls and strikes, after all. No one would argue making incorrect calls to speed things up, but there's evidence that the umps aren't blameless for extending at-bats beyond what's needed.

    The players on these two teams are doing what they do because that's what makes them comfortable and comfort breeds success. They aren't doing it to aggravate West, though they probably don't mind if it does, and they aren't going to stop out of the goodness of their hearts.

    They are only going to stop if baseball makes them stop. There are already rules on the books, rules that are never enforced, having to do with penalizing batters who step out of the box and pitchers who take too long between pitches. There can be rules put into place to limit visits to the mound by catchers and further step up the pace in other ways.

    Complaints about the length of games have come from the league office over and over, yet there's no actual move to do anything to dissuade the behavior that makes things take so long.

    It's a little like performance enhancing drugs in that regard. For all of Bud Selig's moralizing, there was so little actual action on that front that you can't be surprised that players kept using steroids and other substances well after it became a scandal. Baseball finally did something with some teeth and it seems like it has actually eliminated a lot of drug use from clubhouses. 

    Baseball teams and players are a lot less interested in the health of the game than they are interested in their own success. It is the league office's job to concentrate on the larger issues facing the sport. As long as they continue to do nothing, nothing is going to change.