Something has been bothering me. There’s been a new rule change put into place in Major League Baseball this season that’s supposed to help the pace of the game, but I think it’s changing more than that. The change I don’t like is the no-pitch intentional walk.
I know there’s not a problem with 49 out of 50 intentional walks. The pitcher and catcher play catch for four tosses and the batter gets his free base. But sometimes the ball finds its way over the plate or over the catcher’s head and chaos ensues, and chaos is good.
I had a teammate who teams pitched around a lot when we were freshmen in high school. He hated every one of those walks, and his pubescent rage kicked in every time the catcher stood up to signal the walk. After the second or third pitch, he flung his bat out across the plate like he was trying to get a piece of the ball. Sometimes he did, but most of the time he didn’t. But the thing that made it so great was that he made the pitcher nervous enough that the next pitch was either thrown wild outside, over the catcher’s head or right down the middle. Of course, he was ready from the first pitch so if the pitcher’s mistake was the latter, the ball went a long, long ways. (This was before BBCOR bats, so he was using a juiced Omaha bat that gave hitters exponential amounts of pop and made every 14-year-old look like Giancarlo Stanton.)
Throwing four pitches for an intentional walk doesn’t take that much time away from the game. The top intentional walk result on YouTube—that isn’t a montage of wild pitches or hanging meatballs—is the Arizona Diamondbacks walking Barry Bonds with the bases loaded. From the time the first pitch is thrown until the fourth pitc hits the catcher’s mitt, it’s only 37 seconds. It feels like the MLB is barking up the wrong tree if it’s looking to shave time off games. It’s easy enough to make batters keep one foot in the batter’s box between pitches, run a pitch clock or stop letting the infield throw the ball around the infield after every out. (This is another topic for another time, but if the league doesn’t want pitchers to use pine tar on the mound, why hasn’t it done anything about this?)
In a game where traditionalists hold the unwritten rules and strategy of the game sacred, throwing out the traditional intentional walk feels like we’re nixing the seventh-inning stretch.
Photo by Brigham Berthold