You know why the Little League World Series was such a blast to watch?
Sure, there’s the obvious Chicagoistic reason that paraded through the streets Wednesday: Jackie Robinson West was the first baseball team in decades that delivered memories both sides of Chicago could embrace.
But you could have picked any Little League World Series team and loved what you saw because they were playing with a real strike zone. It was big. It was made for action. It was baseball like it ought to be.
The strike zone called in Williamsport was as far from the idiot strike zone called in the majors as Alejandro De Aza is from being a major league regular. It was light years from the painful inertia that marks a brain-numbing majority of big league games these days, and not just when the White Sox go to the bullpen.
Decades ago, the major league strike zone used to be called from the letters to the knees, just like you saw throughout the Little League World Series. That was back when baseball was the national pastime.
Pitchers had a chance to compete. Fans had a chance to stick with it. Now there’s no hope for either group. Blame Major League Baseball.
MLB shrunk the strike zone so it’s from the top of the knee cap to the bottom of the knee cap. As well, MLB became the biggest co-conspirator in the steroid era outside of BALCO. The home runs were bringing people back to the game.
A smaller strike zone helped hitters pick a spot for a pitch and ’roids helped them do evil things to it. Baseball made it impossible for its most expensive commodity to compete.
By comparison, the NFL changes every rule to benefit its most expensive commodity. The quarterback-centric league overtook baseball as the national pastime a while ago and now is just running it up as if Bill Belichick were in charge.
When Congress called, baseball became Casablanca’s Capt. Renault: It was shocked — shocked — to find that steroids were going on in here. While baseball’s alleged war on performance-enhancing drugs got all the attention, nobody restored the strike zone to its usual place — it’s fair place. That’s why 2-1 games still take four hours.
It’s a smart play. Work a pitcher. Get into the bullpen. Win games. The Red Sox and Yankees win World Series doing that. They put on a clinic. They also put people to sleep.
The Cubs are headed that way. The Cubs want to be the Red Sox when they grow up. The Cubs will be a tough watch if they ever reach that level of discipline.
I’m sorry to do this to the Cubs after baseball has screwed so many of Theo Epstein’s secrets to market inequities, but I’m lobbying for the Little League strike zone. Which is to say, the real strike zone. Only people who hate baseball would argue with me.
Baseball is losing the millennial generation, if it hasn’t lost it completely already. Baseball certainly will lose its core audience of boomers because we’ll all die soon. Then what, baseball?
Baseball feels like hours and hours of nothing happening as if it were “Downton Abbey.” Baseball has to face reality. The game has to move faster. Everything everywhere has moved faster except Lance Briggs. Hyperspeed is considered slow to the next generation. Predictably, baseball has been slow to figure this out.
This does not involve just making baseball games shorter. This involves making the pace feel quicker. Football games take more than three hours, as long as many baseball games, but nobody seems aggravated. Football’s pace feels like action. Baseball’s feels like waterboarding.
There is talk about a pitch clock. Rules for that already exist. Umpires are afraid to enforce them. Or they simply refuse to enforce them because the wonks who run MLB won’t back them up lest it upset the players association. No lie, said a source. At MLB, it’s labor peace uber alles, even if it’s a suicide pact for arms. And eyeballs.
Forget giving umpires a stopwatch to figure out when the 12-second clock begins. Just give them a bigger strike zone to call. A real strike zone. Arm pits to the knees and black to black.
Hitters would swing, you betcha. Pitchers actually would be in a hurry to pitch with a fair strike zone awaiting them. Games would move like they used to. Games would move like they have to.