The long and short of pitching time

When the current big-league baseball season ends, no longer will you see pitchers indefinitely throwing to hold runners at first base, as they often do. No more wondering why the second-baseman is playing right field while the shortstop is on the wrong side of second base. Forget about going to the concession stand, waiting in line, buying your popcorn and getting back to your seat without missing a pitch.

Baseball rule changes are coming in 2023, and they should be punctuated by four words.

Don’t stop now, boys.

Games have been antidotes for insomnia, so baseball’s leaders are trying to speed up play. Only two tosses to first base per batter. Shifting players out of position prohibited. Time clocks between innings…and between pitches. I’ve seen more minor-league games than major lately, and this shortens games by up to half an hour.

Given that the good old days really can be old AND good, baseball needs more changes. One has to do with pitchers. Actually, more than one.

Who came up with the 100-pitch maximum? Starting pitchers throwing no-hitters are removed from games before daring to throw pitch number 101. This mound rule has slipped into game plans to the point where there are precious few exceptions. Why? The only explanation that’s close to logical is that pitchers’ arms that were once worth thousands are now worth millions…so baby them. In those good old days, pitches often weren’t even counted.

Nolan Ryan once threw 235 pitches. Harvey Haddix pitched a 12-inning perfect game that would be politically incorrect today. Juan Marichal and Warren Spahn matched up to pitch two 16-inning complete games, combining to throw 200-plus pitches until Willie Mays won it (1-0) with a home run. That produced a book entitled “The Greatest Game Ever Pitched.”

I know, I know…it’s a different world, and this is now a game of specialists. However, instead of worrying about too many pitches, maybe baseball should worry about too many pitchers. Active rosters have grown from eight pitchers to 13. More pitchers, more pitching changes, more time spent doing nothing.

And sometimes, even 13 isn’t enough. Every starting pitcher used to be a “starter” and now there are “openers” — relief pitchers who throw one inning, which means nine pitchers in a game. It gets worse.

Earlier this month, Chicago’s best pitcher (Dylan Cease) was working on a no-hitter, after eight innings. His White Sox led 7-0. The opposing manager, Minnesota’s Rocco Baldelli, despatched his second-baseman to pitch. When that didn’t work out, the next “reliever” was Baldelli’s back-up shortstop. By the time this lack of integrity ended, it was 13-0 and Cease had waited almost 20 minutes between pitches. His potential no-hitter soon disappeared.

At 20 minutes per half inning, that’s a five-hour game. As somebody who once saw every pitch of a 10-hour major-league doubleheader, I know what an endurance test watching baseball can be. Having players who can’t “pitch” is a recipe for that.

If a manager thinks the game truly is out of reach, there’s a simple solution: Forfeit it.