- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 18, 2001

Bud Selig is looking to speed up the interminable game of baseball, starting with the pitch count.

This is not an unreasonable request, considering how baseball has plummeted in the American sports culture in the last generation, especially among the young.

A game unfolds at a snail's pace, which the guardians of the game find appealing, indicative of their vast intellect. The guardians understand. Yet it's uncertain what they understand, or if they understand beyond their parochial interests. They can take their smug manner to the grave with them, which is one of the problems before Selig. The guardians are getting older.

Baseball is a small element of the cultural divide between the old and young, with the middle-aged providing a mirror and sensitive ear to both.

This space is an old baseball hand, once loyal to the Washington Senators, and found Arlington, Texas, to be too distant and Baltimore to be, well, Baltimore. The game went into hiding, too, dispatched to television's nether world, and the players evolved into idiosyncratic messes, one step removed from Tourette's syndrome.

It takes time to scratch, spit and dig at the dirt between pitches. It also takes time to let corporate America have its say.

Games used to be routinely completed in two and a half hours. Games today routinely require more than three hours to complete. The extra investment in time is not the result of extra action unless you count the extra beer commercials between innings and the extra shots of the third-base coach.

Selig believes the ball-strike count is one area that could improve the game, if the umpires can be persuaded to call a strike a strike. The umpires don't appear to be in a cooperative mood, imagining the worst, claiming the edict to be an attack on their integrity.

They try hard enough with the balls and strikes, although the commissioner's office only wants them to try harder. Their leap to integrity is interesting, as if their conscience is guilty.

The commissioner's office is counting pitches. It does not say if this is becoming analogous to counting sheep. It seems more and more Americans are making that argument, judging by the expressions of concern emanating from bat, ball and glove manufacturers. Their products do not leave store shelves the way they once did.

There are more X-factors in the marketplace, not the least of which are the games that merit an X. Local parks are seemingly overrun with soccer players, basketball players, softball players and joggers. Here's an odd game, recently viewed: an offspring of tackle football, as played with a Frisbee.

What's striking at these parks and baseball has perfected the strike is that baseball is barely represented, if at all. The city is a baseball wasteland, and not just in the District, but in cities across America.

The Latin American populace is providing the player personnel in record numbers, no doubt aided by America's growing indifference at the youth level. But who's going to be watching in 20 years? Who's going to be paying the next Alex Rodriguez-like contract?

It is Selig's job to wrestle with potentially unpleasant demographic shifts. His game was the national pastime at one time. It was the game of the 20th century, most of it anyway, and it spoke to America. Now it is something considerably less, not dying, by any means, but not thriving, either, unable to relate to the Internet generation.

Selig would like to see about 15 pitches pared from the average game, no daunting challenge if the umpires enforce the larger strike zone. What would that achieve? Maybe nothing. Maybe a little something. You tinker here. You tinker there. Maybe in the end you eliminate some of the game's uselessness.

Of course, the umpires don't see it that way. They see a divisive insinuation that impugns their character and ability to carry out their jobs. Worse, their feelings are hurt. So they have filed a grievance.

As usual in baseball, someone is missing the larger picture.

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