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MLB’s Automatic Intentional Walk – Game Changer or Changing the Game?

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In my lifetime, I have seen big changes in Major League Baseball, and most of them seem to have watered down the game that I love – I still loathe the designated hitter and find the Replay Review despicable (and talk about slowing down the game). The latest inanity from MLB’s Halls of a Special Kind of Stupid is an idea to speed up the game – they are instituting an automatic intentional walk. All the manager has to do is give signal from the dugout, and the batter trots down to first base.

Wow, MLB! You really have your fingers on the pulse of what bothers fans most. Damn, how we have always hated those intentional walks. They are so interminably frustrating to sit and watch. The automatic intentional walk is a brilliant idea – right up there with national holidays on Mondays and the Common Core Curriculum.

I have attended games where there have been errors on an intentional walk. I have seen the catcher miss the ball or the pitcher throw the ball away. While this technically could slow down the game, it also can be a game changer with runners on base – especially third base. As the video below clearly illustrates, the intentional walk can be a game changer.

Alas, Commissioner Rob Manfred just doesn’t get it because he is more interested in changing the game. Coupled with this intentional walk rule he also announced a higher strike zone. As it stands now the strike zone is so variable depending on the umpire behind the plate; this rule offers no clarity and could even upset players and fans more than the automatic intentional walk.

Manfred is like the Little Dutch boy and the speed of the game is like the leaking dyke. Now he is sitting there grinning with one finger in the hole thinking he’s got this thing, while new holes are popping out all over the place.

Baseball is the only major sport with no time clock. Basketball, football, soccer, and hockey all have quarters or periods with specific times. Baseball has innings and they end after three outs. That is the beauty of the game as well as its inherent flaw – an inning can last as long as 60 seconds or 60 minutes depending on what is happening between the lines. That makes the game interesting but at times frustrating, yet that is the game we love.

My greatest fear is that automatic intentional walks can lead to something else unnatural in the game. Automatic anything hints of automated, and this could range from something like an automatic or electronic strike zone to making all the umpires infallible robots who will make all calls reliably and without any room for second guessing. How does a manager come running out of the dugout to argue with a robot, much less kick dirt on shoes it doesn’t have?

A final thought on these automatic intentional walks – what about pitch counts? In these days of counting each pitch and limiting pitchers to roughly 100 pitches per game, doesn’t this seem like they are trying to save a few pitches here? I am not sure if this was a factor in the decision, but it still is something to consider.

All the sound and fury about this new policy will do nothing to get MLB to change it. It seems like an automatic intentional walk is now here to stay, but it is no game changer but more a case of changing the game yet again for the sake of saving a few seconds that signify nothing. Way to go, MLB.


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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana's stories, articles, and poems have been published in literary magazines and online. His books 'A Death in Prague' (2002), 'Move' (2003), 'The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories' (2005), and 'Like a Passing Shadow' (2009) are available in print, online, and as e-books. His latest books 'If the Fates Allow: New York Christmas Stories,' 'Garden of Ghosts,' and 'Flashes in the Pan' are available exclusively on Amazon. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated on writing mostly fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as a faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with 'Blogcritics Magazine' since July 2005 and has written well over 500 articles; previously co-head sports editor, he now is a Culture and Society editor. Having traveled extensively, Victor has visited six continents and intends to get to Antarctica someday where he figures a few ideas for new stories await him.