Major League Baseball organizers quietly decided to alter a little detail about the way the game is played, apparently expecting that no one would notice.
From now on, whenever a manager decides that he wants his pitcher to intentionally walk a hitter, the hurler doesn't actually have to throw four wide pitches. The manager just have to tell the umpires about his plan -- and the man at the plate can simply trot down to first base.
So what's the big deal?
In short, this is another attempt by Major League Baseball to make America's Game slightly more palatable to casual fans -- while sterilizing the experience for knowledgeable and faithful supporters.
True baseball devotees know that the game is much more difficult than it looks. Whenever a player takes something about the game for granted, that's when it bites him in the behind. I have seen pitchers forget about the runner on second base who caused the intentional walk to be issued in the first place only to have that runner swipe third while the intentional walk is physically executed. I have seen pitchers make a wild throw during intentional walks which allowed a runner to score from third. I have seen base runners get picked off by the catcher during intentional walks. I have seen a pitcher pretend he was going to intentionally walk a batter with a full count -- and then throw strike three past the inattentive batter. And I have seen pitchers who lost their rhythm by issuing an intentional walk suddenly implode and become incapable of not issuing unintentional walks.
There is A LOT of stuff that can happen during an intentional walk. And to make the game easier for the lazy and the inexperienced fans doesn't make baseball better. It waters it down.
Memo to MLB: The juncture of a game where a manager decides whether to issue an intentional walk is a pivotal point of the contest. It builds drama to watch the gambit of a skipper putting the game in jeopardy by putting ANOTHER runner on base in an all-or-nothing effort to get his pitcher out of a jam. When the intentional walk is going on is when we fans in the stands or in front of our televisions in our living rooms debate the merits of such a move. Is the manager brilliant... Or is he an idiot? Give us a second to ponder this before the game decides who was right and who was wrong.
The only reason to change a rule that has been the way it is for a century and a half is to try to shave off another 30 seconds from the length of the game. As I have said a dozen times before, I have never heard a true baseball fan say "Boy, that was an awesome game... I just wish it was a few minutes shorter."
The proliferation of pitch count clocks and other gimmicky rules has to stop somewhere. Major League Baseball executives would be better off sticking with a product that has stood the test of time than trying to manipulate the game to make it appeal to the masses.
Please, leave the game we love alone.