The arrival of baseball, even in its embryonic exhibition stage, has always had side effects, including the penchant among its serious students to propose changes to the rules and general presentation of the game itself.
It's annoying, but not in the way you might think. It's annoying because the changes are generally so benign as to be pointless, even as the game cries for dramatic changes that will drag it into the era of raging technology and the microscopic attention span.
Here are some bold ideas that, were baseball to actually implement them, might result in the kind of game in which spectators who bother to look up from their iPhones might actually see something, like movement.
Third base -- get rid of it.
Third base is so overrated. Teams are always trying to get people to third base, particularly with one out, like that's some kind of license to score.
Bonus: No third base, no third base coach, the only person in uniform in any sport whose mannerisms suggest to the untrained eye a man either searching for his car keys or trying to extract a stinkbug from some invisible place. The NFL has tiny radio receivers in players' helmets in this here century, a more efficient way of transmitting strategy than the ridiculous third base coach pantomime. No one will miss a sign when the third base coach simply says into his own microphoned helmet, "Bunt, you idiot."
Speaking of that, no bunting.
This might play well in Bradenton right now. The Pirates this week lost A.J. Burnett, their brand newly acquired top starting pitcher to an orbital bone fracture that resulted from a bunting drill. This is so 1800s, this bunting. With third base eliminated (and granted, that will require some tweaks by the groundskeepers), no one has to be bunted over there. Also, don't bunt people to second. You're giving up an out, and possibly two. You want to move runners? Hit a double; that'll move 'em. Better yet, a homerun brings them all running home. Maybe that's why they call it that.
And from now on, it's two strikes and you're out, and three balls are a walk. You'll be amazed at how this accelerates things from the old 3-4 system that's been in place for 127 years. Scoff not at the likelihood of this alteration, because baseball once changed the number of balls required for a base on balls four times in five years. Prior to 1880, when they changed it to eight, nine balls were needed to go to first base, according to Baseball Almanac. (I wasn't there.) In 1884, they changed it to six, then to five in 1885, and finally to four in 1889. We're way overdue for further reduction.
Don't think the baseball hierarchy in place today won't consider changing things.
On Friday, it expanded the post-season field to 10 teams, or 30 percent of the competing population. A simple bump up to 87 percent will have the Pirates printing playoff tickets.
At least half the time.
(Full disclosure: I just wrote that to see if the bizarre etymological sequence "Pirates printing playoff tickets" would blow up this laptop.)
Surveillance-type ankle bracelets for all batters is another idea long past due. This will work on the same principle as the dog collar and the invisible fence. Any batter who leaves the batters box during his at bat gets an electrical shock. That's right. Stay in there. Where you goin'? Umpires, of course, won't enforce this, so it'll have to be activated from upstairs. I'm available.
Not sure what should happen if the batter hits the ball. Still working on that, but the point is, baseball has to start using technology to speed the game up rather than slow it down (see instant replay).
Football has a play clock; baseball should have a pitch clock. Catch it, throw it; you've got six seconds. How much of your life have you spent looking at Jonathan Papelbon staring in for a sign like someone watching a sunset? We have the technology to replace signs forever. Catchers wear helmets. Put a mic in 'em. Pitchers don't wear helmets, but should. If the base coaches standing about 90 feet from the hitter are required to wear helmets for their own safety, why isn't the pitcher, who is about 30 feet closer and about eight miles higher on the payroll?
We're probably years or even decades from helmets on pitchers, because that just makes too much sense.
How about the immediate elimination of all batting gloves? Batters won't stop playing with them. Loosen 'em, tighten 'em, loosen 'em, tighten 'em, unfasten 'em, fasten 'em, spit on 'em, wipe the spit off 'em -- this is a lot of trouble to go to just to foul out to the catcher.
Pitching coaches should be limited to one trip to the mound per pitcher per game and should be allowed to take an iPhone with them. Slaves to video, pitchers can much more readily adapt corrective measures if they can see what the coach is talking about. "Look at your shoulder on that last pitch! Look at it! We talked about this. All right let's go; you've got six seconds."
Seriously, if the first base coach has a stopwatch, why can't the pitching coach have an iPhone?
Finally, how about real-time drug testing in the specimen lab -- formerly the ondeck circle -- with the results sent directly to the jumbotron?
"Here's the cleanup hitter and let's see what's he on tonight. Ooh, big list. Those outfielders had better back up, Whitey."