Improving the games

In romantic myth, the institution of Baseball is considered perfect. Flawed mortals who mess with it may bring tarnish, even corruption. But the concept itself, being divinely inspired, is beyond the perfecting. It’s what you often hear about precious institutions that grow mossy and beloved and are deemed imperishable. And it’s nonsense.

To be sure, Baseball’s raw essentials remain inviolate. There is something beyond the uncanny that sets the distance from the rubber on the pitcher’s mound to the center of home plate at 60 feet six inches and the mandate that the baselines had to be exactly 90 feet long could only have come from the gods. Three strikes, three outs, four balls, four bases, nine positions, nine innings; the symmetry remains gorgeous.

No one disputes the genius of the game’s geometrics, nor would anyone trifle with them. Alexander Cartwright had to have been the favored son of Euclid.

But the trimming, the packaging, endless adornment and selling of the thing is strictly the work of the intensely flawed with mere salesmen, promoters, and assorted infidels chief among them. Most of the game’s incidental detail was born of whim and therefore subject to change. If the dynamics of Baseball remain perfect the presentation could dearly use reformation, although one suspects it might be easier -- as well as less controversial -- to stage another Constitutional Convention to revamp the country’s entire governing order.

For the rigidity of Baseball is proper legend. Other games much less resist refinement. Key revisions in its fundamental laws saved pro basketball. Much the same thing happened in tennis. Hockey, for better or worse, tinkers constantly with its canons. A century and a half into its existence, football still struggles with the elementary issue of how to get a winner when a game ends in a tie.

It’s easier for other games because they are not held to the same rarefied standard of perfection that Baseball has imposed upon itself. Can you imagine the outrage if baseball proposed settling games tied after nine innings with a home run hitting contest? In the National Hockey League they call it “a shootout.” Baseball could never allow a team to advance to its championship round on the wings of a coin toss. But that’s effectively what happened just this past season in the National Football League.

In the NFL, the rulebook is constantly revised. A convention to manage the matter is held every year. In MLB, proposing minor modifications of arcane regulations buried deep in the fine print is regarded as an invitation to chaos. It’s true that changes in baseball’s merchandising are tolerated. We now have, for better or worse, expansion and divisions and wild-cards and inter-league play and even the beginnings of international competition. But all that concerns economics. What happens when the players cavort between the lines looks the same as it did when William McKinley was president.

Roughly a half century ago it was suggested that when a pitcher wants to issue an intentional walk he should be allowed to merely inform the umpire who would then send the batter to first base. It was reasoned that it would help move the game along just a tad, which was even then a concern. The hue and cry was huge. You would have thought proponents had suggested changing the size of the ball or width of the bat. The idea got shouted down.

A somewhat similar circus around the same time attended the suggestion that batters should not be credited with a time at bat when they delivered a fly-ball that scored a run. Talk of your minutiae and yet that brouhaha went on about three years before the change instituting the “sacrifice fly” was begrudgingly approved even though it was only a scoring issue affecting batting averages having nothing to do with how the game is actually played. The current debate about using TV cameras to affirm home runs promises to be comparably endless.

Thus it’s no surprise that since the dawning of the lively-ball era nearly a century ago there’s been only one substantial rules change and that would obviously be the American League’s adoption of the designated hitter which the National League bitterly refused to do. Some four decades later it remains a matter of considerable tension between the leagues which is, of course, patently ludicrous. Either both leagues should have the DH or no league should have the DH. But try selling that indisputable logic to MLB’s Pooh-Bahs. Historically, when you push “change” in baseball you run the risk of being immediately branded some sort of “Bolshevik.”

Nonetheless, “Change” is coming and on all fronts so they’d better brace for it. Structural changes are inevitable. Restructuring the divisions and perhaps even both leagues is likely. Expansion to bring the number of teams to a more workable total of 32 is likely (and necessary). A push further into international competition is probable. A drive for even more revenue sharing and maybe even the dreaded salary cap may be unavoidable. Formerly, the players association was a threat to either impede or control any such bold moves but the MLBPA lost much authority in the steroid/PED scandal. Formerly, reactionary owners could restrain initiatives with the promise of vetoes but they no longer hold the balance of power. There’s a new mood that’s gathering.

It’s never easy to calculate where the Commissioner stands at such moments. Those czars who’ve wanted to keep their jobs have always been lackeys of the owners. Few more so than the current Boy, Bud Selig. But in his bag of tricks old Bud numbers a pragmatic bent. He may even be sincere in his expressed yearnings for new thinking, new directions.

And so he’s formed a committee consisting of 14 substantial and serious chaps. Granted it’s a committee composed of the old guard and well established, largely representing owners, general managers, savants and other friends of the family. But if there are no mavericks aboard neither are there any lightweights. Committee members include Tony LaRussa, Joe Torre, John Schuerholtz, Mark Shapiro, Frank Robinson and George Will, etc. Issues on the table allegedly include; realignment, umpiring, instant replay, playoff structure, wildcards, length of season, length of games, international competition, salary caps, drugs, race, player etiquette, fan relations, even the price of seats, beer and hotdogs, and the wisdom of the $328 ticket, Fenway Park’s top price and baseball’s highest. Could there be anything else?

One recognizes committees are committees, although this one doesn’t look easy to sucker. And talk’s cheap, although there seems more disposition to actually do something than usual. At a minimum might it be a start toward something useful?

Although they don’t need no stinkin committee to deal with this growing issue of interminable ballgames. Maybe it wasn’t politic, but when Umps Joe West and Angel Hernandez whacked the Red Sox and Yankees for their pathetic prolonging of the games in their season-opening series they were not only within their rights but did us all a service by raising an issue that bugs everyone.

Because those games in that series were ridiculously long and truly lapsed into boring stretches totally unnecessary. Umps are vulnerable. Nobody wants to listen to them. But West was right-on when he declared the Red Sox and Yankees to be the worst offenders and at their worst when they play each other. Subsequent pious protestations of players rang hollow. They’d have been wiser to shut up.

Eliminate the dithering of the players stepping out and fussing with their batting gloves. Jeter of New York and Pedroia of Boston are the most aggravating examples. Restrict the number of visits a pitching coach makes to the mound. Boston’s Farrell is a major offender. Restrict the visits a catcher can make to his pitcher. New York’s Posada is a major offender. Restrict the number of warm-ups relievers can take; no more than four. No more time-outs for base-runners to dust themselves off. Clock the time it takes a pitcher between pitches. Refuse to grant time-outs to batters save for exceptional circumstances, like attacks by swarms of insects. Let the umps call “strikes” on batters and “balls” on pitchers who don’t get the message.

That will quicken the pace of these games. Pronto! And they could start doing it tomorrow.

Retired Green Bay auxiliary bishop failed to report abuse, withdraws from ministry

Green Bay, Wis., Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Bishop Robert Morneau, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Green Bay, has withdrawn from public ministry saying ...

Dolan 'impatient' waiting for apostolic visitation in response to McCarrick

New York City, N.Y., Sep 20, 2018 CNA.- The Archbishop of New York said Thursday that while he has confidence in the way Pope Francis is handling the ...

Two more Chilean bishops step down in wake of abuse crisis

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis accepted the resignations of two more Chilean bishops, bringing to seven the number of bishops who have stepped down ...

Celebration of the Priesthood dinner raises over $1.8 million

BOSTON -- A record 1,700 people attended the 10th annual Celebration of the Priesthood dinner to raise funds for the Clergy Health and Retirement Trust ...

Lawrence parish helps community cope with gas explosion aftermath

LAWRENCE -- Volunteers at St. Patrick Church's Cor Unum Meal Center were serving dinner when multiple natural gas explosions and fires broke out in homes ...

Ceremony, Mass kick off St. Augustine Chapel bicentennial

SOUTH BOSTON -- St. Augustine Chapel and Cemetery began its year-long bicentennial celebration on the weekend of Sept. 14-16 with tours, special Masses, ...

Mass. Knights install new officers

The Massachusetts State Council Knights of Columbus recently held its Installation of State Officers at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Canton with ...

Deal will keep Sancta Maria Nursing Facility open

CAMBRIDGE -- Sancta Maria Nursing Facility announced Sept. 17 that it has negotiated a comprehensive operational contract with Advocate Healthcare Management ...

From Cardinal Seán's blog

As I mentioned in my preface to last week's blog, this week and last, I have been in Rome for meetings related to the work of the Pontifical Commission ...

N.Y. Archdiocese names judge as independent reviewer on abuse protocols

NEW YORK (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has named a former federal judge to study archdiocesan policies and procedures with respect to sexual ...

U.S. reports poverty declines, but agencies finding needs remain great

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The good news from the U.S. Census Bureau Sept. 12 was that the poverty rate dropped for the third straight year in 2017 and median ...

Class-action lawsuit filed against eight Pennsylvania dioceses

PITTSBURGH (CNS) -- A class-action lawsuit was filed Sept. 17 against eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania demanding the dioceses provide proof that ...

Apostolic visitor outlines plans for expansion at Medjugorje shrine

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- The Polish archbishop tasked with overseeing Bosnia-Herzegovina's Medjugorje shrine has outlined plans for expansion, including ...

Pope names administrator as Indian bishop investigated for alleged rape

MUMBAI, India (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the request of an Indian bishop accused of raping a nun to be relieved of his duties during the investigation. In ...

In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, ...

Thousands of Hispanics expected in Texas for Encuentro summit

Fort Worth, Texas, Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- As many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background are expected in Texas this week for the National V Encuentro, ...

Church plans third-party abuse reporting system, code of conduct

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pledging to "heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us," the U.S. bishops' Administrative Committee Sept. 19 ...

Be grateful to parents, never insult them, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Honoring mothers and fathers means being grateful for the gift of life and Christians should never insult anyone's parents, Pope ...

Canadian cardinal: Women should help screen, train priest applicants

Poznan, Poland, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- Increasing the role of women in screening and training priests is among the steps that should be taken to prevent future ...

Vatican delegation will travel to China this month to finalize agreement, Chinese newspaper reports

Beijing, China, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- A newspaper tied to the Chinese Communist Party reported Tuesday that a delegation of Vatican officials will head to ...

Media reporting Vatican-China agreement could be signed in late September

HONG KONG (CNS) -- The long-awaited Sino-Vatican agreement on the nomination of bishops is expected to be signed in September, reported several media ...

Update: Irish singer Bono calls pope 'extraordinary man for extraordinary times'

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Bono, the lead singer of the Irish band U2, said he told Pope Francis that in Ireland "it looks as though the abusers are being ...

Cardinal Marx says mistakes were made, calls for change in German church

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, head of the German bishops' conference, admitted that mistakes were made in the German church's handling of sex abuse of minors ...

Church crisis response: Healing Masses, listening sessions, fasting

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In response to the sexual abuse crisis in the church, Catholics are praying for victims, talking about their frustration and anger, ...

Pope names Minnesota priest as auxiliary bishop of Hartford

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has appointed Father Juan M. Betancourt, a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, as auxiliary bishop ...

Listening church: Pope gives new vision for Synod of Bishops

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Synod of Bishops increasingly should be a structure for listening to the Catholic faithful, demonstrating a local bishop's concern ...

Director of Courage releases letter on Penn. abuse report

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Courage International, an apostolate to support people with same sex-attraction in leading chaste lives, has issued ...

Richmond bishop apologizes to victims; commits to opening, reviewing files

RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) -- In celebrating the Diocese of Richmond's first Mass of Atonement for victims of abuse Sept. 14, Bishop Barry C. Knestout apologized ...

Advocates decry historically low cap for refugee entry in 2019

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Advocates for refugee admissions into the United States decried what one statement called a historically low cap of 30,000 for fiscal ...

Stanford University to remove saint's name from some properties

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- California's Stanford University will strip the name of 18th-century Franciscan friar, St. Junipero Serra, from some of its properties ...

Catholic Charities distributes disaster relief to areas hit by Florence

RALEIGH, N.C. (CNS) -- The Carolinas were hard hit with record rainfall and flooding rivers from tropical storm Florence since it made landfall Sept. ...

Archbishop Lori assures diocese he's with them in journey toward healing

WHEELING, W.Va. (CNS) -- In his celebration of Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling Sept. 15, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore said ...

Bishop takes a (sky) dive to get pilgrims to Lourdes

HOVE, England (CNS) -- "The Moth has landed," tweeted the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton. The tweet Sept. 14 and a similar post on the diocesan Facebook ...

Words, promises are not enough to prevent abuse, archbishop says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Inviting presidents of the world's bishops' conference to the Vatican to discuss abuse prevention reflects an understanding that ...

Pope praises Capuchin order's charism of authenticity, simplicity

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Capuchins are called to be men of peace, reconciliation and prayer and to be close to all people, Pope Francis told members of the ...

Path to healing starts with seeking forgiveness, Cardinal Wuerl says

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A "Season of Healing" for sexual abuse survivors began in the Archdiocese of Washington with a Sept. 14 Mass at the Cathedral of St. ...

Archbishop McCarrick's unofficial role in Vatican-China relations

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Following reports that the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China could be about to sign an agreement ...

Archbishop Chaput: When we forget faith, we forget our humanity

Spokane, Wash., Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- When man tries to cling to reason and separate himself from faith, he forgets who he is and loses his source of hope, ...

Pope Francis warns priests against living a double life

Palermo, Italy, Sep 15, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- During a day trip to Sicily Saturday, Pope Francis told priests and religious to fight their vices and strive ...

What is the pontifical secret?

Vatican City, Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- Following the allegations made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò about the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, ...

Catholic workers say U.S. aid cuts to Palestinians could be disastrous

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- The U.S. budgetary cuts to humanitarian aid institutions helping Palestinians could lead to long-term disastrous consequences, said ...