Ask yourself this question: have you ever gone to a baseball game hoping to see an intentional walk?
The purpose of issuing walks is to encourage a pitcher to give batters something worth hitting and to reward them if he doesn't. But what happens when the reward is not a reward…when the penalty is so desirable that a team says, in effect, “Please, sir, penalize us?” At these times, the rule designed to make the game interesting actually reduces its entertainment value.
What if you could guarantee that every time Jim Thome or Albert Pujols came up to bat the confrontation would either end by a strikeout or a ball put in play? Would the game be less exciting or more? I say more, and here is my suggestion:
Whenever a walk is issued, the batting team gets to decide whether the batter himself goes to first and the next player bats or whether a pinch runner (whose use doesn’t disqualify him for later use as a sub) goes to first and the batter starts over with an 0-0 count. In other words, no more intentional walks. No more bypassing the at-bats of the players most likely to make the game worth watching.
Baseball thrives on confrontations. There is nothing more thrilling than watching Randy Johnson try to blow three fastballs past David Ortiz or seeing if Chris Carpenter can sneak three pitches on the corner past Lance Berkman. People might have their own personal opinion of Barry Bonds, but nobody goes for hot dogs while he is at bat. And if baseball is thrilling because of the tension that comes from these great confrontations, then surely there is nothing more deflating to the joy of watching the game than letting a team avoid one by issuing a walk.
My proposal preserves such titanic clashes, particularly in close games. In fact, it guarantees them. And ultimately, isn’t that why people pay money to watch? I recently went to all four games St. Louis (my team) played here in Arizona. It went badly for us, but I couldn’t have cared less. The only thing I remember from that long weekend was seeing a towering blast from the 2005 MVP, Albert Pujols. And even when he didn’t hit one, which was true every other time he went to bat last weekend, didn’t we fans deserve to see him have the chance? If baseball is a game designed to teach character, why should it allow teams to avoid danger by ducking good hitters to get at weaker ones behind them?
Now, lest we forget that baseball is a game of balance, I want to point out that this still gives the defense part of what they want. Putting a man on first can enable a double play and sometimes a force at home, both of which are strategic decisions teams should be able to pick.