Baseball has always moved at the perfect pace
TAMPA, Fla. -- Baseball games are not too long. They're just not. In fact, they're probably close to perfect.
I happened upon this moment of clarity the other day during a conversation with Braves president John Schuerholz. That he would be the source of my clarity should not come as a surprise. He's one of the wise men of the game, revered equally for his judgment and integrity.
Schuerholz will celebrate an astonishing milestone in 2016, when he'll become a member of the 75-50-25 club. That is, 75 years on earth, 50 in baseball, 25 with the Braves.
No baseball man is held in higher regard, both by the people who work for him and those who compete against him.
The Kansas City Royals became a model franchise after the late owner Ewing Kauffman put Schuerholz in charge in 1982. So did the Braves after Ted Turner turned things over to Schuerholz in 1990.
Schuerholz has long been one of Commissioner Bud Selig's confidants on an assortment of issues, including the implementation of instant replay. The Hall of Fame will be a better place when Schuerholz is finally inducted.
Schuerholz is as busy as ever. Besides his work on instant replay, he's still the final word on virtually everything that happens with Atlanta's organization, and he is the guiding light in the design and construction of the club's new ballpark.
During a visit with Schuerholz before a Braves exhibition game, I wondered if speeding up and shortening games was important to him.
"No," he said.
Plenty of us who cover the game feel otherwise. We're forever bellyaching about batters stepping out of the box and pitchers taking too long to throw the ball. I figured Schuerholz had a long list of ideas of how to speed things up.
What he said stunned me.
"Listen," Schuerholz said, motioning toward the box seats. "In all my years in this sport, I have never once had a fan tell me that the games were too long."
"They love coming to the ballpark," Schuerholz said. "They love being here. They love the experience. They come here to see their team win and to see their favorite players. They pay good money to do this. They don't sit here and think, 'I can't wait for this to be over.' This isn't life and death, but it's important to them. They care about it."
Schuerholz had reminded me of something all of us inside the sport need to be reminded of occasionally. That is, fans have a passion for baseball that's at the core of what makes the game wonderful.
They love the experience of watching a baseball game, whether it's at home or in their friendly local ballpark, and they are not obsessed with how quickly the game passes.
As George Will once wrote, the best fans know that the game is played at an incredible speed, that things are happening so quickly it's almost impossible to catch up. Ask any rookie manager. At times, they're overwhelmed by the speed with which they must make decisions.
Jimy Williams was the Braves' third-base coach in one of the most memorable plays in history, when he waved home a lumbering Sid Bream with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series.
Atlanta trailed 2-0 when the inning began, and the sight of Jimmy Carter leaping over the railing to sprint to third base to hug Williams and the home-plate celebration that followed will live in the hearts and minds of baseball fans forever.
That play happened because Williams had been taught by a legendary baseball man, Hub Kittle, one of his mentors, to scan the entire outfield before every pitch.
"He taught us to do the windshield-wiper scan," Williams once said. "Left to right, right to left."
That's how Williams noticed that Pirates left fielder Barry Bonds had taken a couple of steps to his right. So when Francisco Cabrera's hit landed a bit to Bonds' left, Williams knew it would be an awkward throw and instantly sent Bream, thinking it was worth the gamble.
That single play, with all its nuances -- and Carter understanding that Jimy Williams was so critical to the whole thing -- is why baseball isn't slow and has never been slow and will never be slow.
Schuerholz reminded me of that, of the fact that fans love the sport just the way it is, and that the longer the game goes, the longer they get to be at the ballpark. There's still no better way to spend a few hours.
But, John, I said, what about these guys constantly stepping out of the box to adjust their gloves? And what about these pitchers walking around the mound? Couldn't that be eliminated?
"Sure," he said, "we're always looking at that kind of stuff. We're trying some things in the Minor Leagues."
"Listen, these guys that play this game are incredibly talented," Schuerholz said. "There are only 750 people on earth on Major League rosters. Do you understand what a small percentage of the population that is? These are the best of the best of the best of the best. Yeah, they're going to have some eccentricities. That's also part of the appeal."
I thought back to last season, when at various times teams like the Rays and Dodgers looked unbeatable, how their games became events and how every game had a postseason feel because there was something magical going on with those clubs.
Those games seemed to fly by. When it's good, it's really good. That may be how fans see it. They don't want one of the things they enjoy the most to be hurried along. They love it just the way it is.
"Just let the players play," Indians coach Brad Mills said last season. "That's when the game is at its best. We're the lucky ones, because we get to sit back and watch these amazing athletes play the toughest game on earth."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.