This year’s World Series, which begins its Game Six tonight in Houston with the Atlanta Braves holding a 3-2 series lead, must be going well, because everyone’s complaining about it.
Complaining about baseball is a time-honored tradition for fans; it’s a major part of what makes following the game so fun. (There were commentators grousing that “baseball was dying” in … 1868.) There’s an old baseball adage that every fan thinks the game was perfect at the exact moment they fell in love with it, which is usually somewhere in the preteen range. Thus, every fan believes that any alteration the sport has made since that moment has made it worse. And all this moaning and groaning also means people are thinking about what they love about baseball while tuning in — which is precisely what the sport is all about.
That said: There are a lot of complaints this year, and the baseball-isn’t-what-it-used-to-be drumbeat has grown steadily louder of late. But I’m still pretty sure almost everything with the game is just fine — almost — and that most of the whining is unjustified. Perhaps it is worth unpacking the most common objections one by one. Baseball is built for griping but that does not mean the griping is correct.
Now on to the airing of grievances!
There Are Too Many Pitching Changes
Baseball is a sport that has long fetishized the idea of one starting pitcher dominating the opposition in the postseason like a Western gunslinger taking out all the town’s bandits by himself. (Jack Morris is in the Hall of Fame mostly because of one incredible performance in one World Series game.) But this year, no starting pitcher has gone longer than five innings, and most haven’t even come close to that. The Braves’ Game Four starter, a poor kid named Dylan Lee, had thrown two innings his entire career before being asked to take the hill on the game’s grandest stage … and was summarily pulled after four batters. Both managers are constantly swapping out pitchers, which slows the game down, and gives the World Series spotlight to random dudes named Tyler Matzek and Phil Maton instead of future Hall of Famers.
It is a little confusing as to why that’s a problem. This is, after all, the World Series, in which playing matchups — figuring out the right pitcher for a given hitter and vice versa — is of paramount importance. Are managers supposed to say, “This pitcher is the right choice here to give us the best chance to win this game, but I won’t use him because a guy on his couch in Connecticut just went to the bathroom five minutes ago and therefore has nothing to occupy his time while my pitcher comes in from the bullpen?” Imagine telling a football coach that home viewers would like it if he benched his starting quarterback and started someone more aesthetically satisfying, and that if he doesn’t do so, he is somehow hurting the sport?
The goal of a baseball manager is to win baseball games, particularly during the freaking World Series, and sorry folks, but your 45 to 60 seconds of idle time are not, in fact, more important than that goal. If you prioritize keeping pitchers in the game for the sake of keeping them in, you are compromising the very competition everyone ostensibly showed up to watch in the first place. It is not “analytics” that are leading to the pitching changes. It is simply managers trying to put their teams in the best position to win, because they are trying to win, because that’s their job. (And this is not a new phenomenon, either: The Cardinals won the World Series a decade ago relying just as much, if not more, on their relief pitchers.) Do we seriously have such short attention spans that we’d rather teams avoid generating commercial breaks than actually try to win? Or are we just pounding our fists on social media and demanding the fist-pounding be included in the rule book?
Removing a Pitcher Throwing a No-Hitter Is Why Baseball Is Bad Now
In Game Three on Friday night, Braves manager Brian Snitker pulled starter Ian Anderson despite the fact that Anderson had yet to allow a hit. (There has been only one no-hitter in World Series history, Don Larsen’s famous perfect game in 1956.) This led to all sorts of hand-wringing from middle-aged sportswriters (note: you are currently reading a middle-aged sportswriter, but don’t worry, I’m not one of those middle-aged sportswriters) about how this move was going against the spirit of the game, a signifier that baseball was somehow broken.
In a pragmatic sense, Snitker’s decision fell under the banner of Complaint No. 1, and my response is the same: He is trying to win a baseball game, not write a sportswriter’s story for them. And his decision to pull Anderson was even more straightforwardly defensible than just playing matchups. As Snitker said in his postgame press conference, Anderson’s stuff was not so dominant that he was going to throw nine innings anyway, so it was not a matter of “if” he pulled him, but “when.” Had he waited until Anderson gave up a hit, well, it could have been too late. The goal is to keep the runners off base, not make sure the viewers at home are having a good time. If Snitker had left Anderson in and he’d given up a homer that caused the Braves to lose, he’d be getting roasted, and for good reason. Again: The goal is to win the game, not to advance a television-ready story line. Winning has been the goal in baseball for 150 years; we just understand a little better how to do it now. Yet it’s the traditionalists who are angriest! It’s almost as if it is, in fact, impossible to please them at all.
Jose Altuve Is a Cheater and Should Be Booed Mercilessly During Every At Bat
The Astros’ second baseman serves as the public face of the team’s 2017 cheating scandal, which is why he’s jeered even more lustily than any of the other (also deeply unloved) Astros every time he steps to the plate. But his villainy is one of those myths that has ossified into legend. Whatever your thoughts about the scandal — and you should know that I find it quite silly — Altuve is perhaps the least culpable of all the Astros. Not only did Altuve decline to participate in the “banging scheme,” he hated it and actively yelled at his teammates when they tried to make him take part. (Not out of any sort of higher sense of morality, mind you; he just found the idea of knowing what pitch was coming next distracting and intrusive.) And early reports that he was wearing some sort of “buzzer” under his uniform were entirely unfounded. You can call the Astros cheaters if you want, even if there are only seven players from 2017 still on the roster. But putting Altuve at the center of all this isn’t just wrong, it might just cost him a deserving spot in the Hall of Fame. Besides, injecting personal morality into sports is the quickest way to suck all the joy right out of them.
Games Are Finishing Too Late at Night
Look: I’m tired, you’re tired, we’re all tired. These games are regularly going past midnight — only two of the five have finished the same day they started so far — and it’s certainly keeping everyone who stays up until the last out groggy the next morning (on the East Coast, anyway). My 9-year-old baseball-obsessed son hasn’t gotten to watch a whole game yet, and he’s plenty irritated at me about it.
This also makes him like every 9-year-old baseball-obsessed kid over the last 50 years. As pointed out by baseball writer Joe Sheehan in his newsletter, nearly every World Series game since 1971 has ended between 11 p.m. ET and midnight … and yet baseball has somehow survived.
Complaints about the lateness of have been around just as long. One reason they’re so ever-present? Many of the loudest voices, in the media and in the larger populace, live in the Eastern Time Zone. If you live in California—and, you know, a lot of people do, as it turns out — the games are done in time for a late dinner. The World Series has been starting at 8 p.m. ET (or later) for as long as most of us watching it have been alive. The only difference now is that we can hear people grousing about it more. Sure, I’d love afternoon World Series games too. But they’ve been televising these things for seven decades now. If it made sense to play the games at 3 p.m., it would have happened by now. And then I’m sure we’d all complain about not being able to get off work in time to watch.
With all that said, I do think there are a couple of valid complaints right now:
Baseball Games Are Just Too Long
I’ll confess my own blind spot on this one. While I love baseball and will watch every game I can, there is no question that the pace of play has slowed over the last decade or so. The average game time in 2021 was three hours, 10 minutes, an all-time high; it was 2:51 in 2011, and 2:33 in 1981. This problem is particularly obvious in the postseason; there has been only one playoff game under three hours so far. (This is another reason people are complaining about staying up so late.) Many possible solutions have been floated, from a pitch clock to a cap on the number of pitchers who can appear in a game to even lopping off an inning or two (the most radical and nightmarish fix), but few can credibly argue that it’s not a real problem and that it’s not getting worse. I get the complaints on this one. Perhaps owners and players can work on a solution this off-season while simultaneously arguing over every single aspect of baseball’s byzantine financial structure.
The Tomahawk Chop Is Very Bad
No arguments here: The chop is definitely, definitely bad. Keep complaining about it.
Just don’t forget to try to enjoy the games, too.