Bradford: One pitcher's view on good, bad of baseball

Rob Bradford
July 10, 2018 - 9:56 pm

USA Today Sports

Talking to Rick Porcello about the state of Major League Baseball, one can't help but come away with this thought -- it must be nice to be as passionate about anything as the Red Sox pitcher is about this subject.

Coincidentally, it's a topic that seems to be something people really want to talk about these days.

"I still love the game. I’m still passionate about it," Porcello told WEEI.com. "Things that people don’t necessarily like, or that the players don’t like, still make it a great game because we’re talking about it. I feel emotional toward it. If I didn’t care I would say it doesn’t matter. People obviously care because they are talking about it and writing about it."

Over the course of the last few days, the mortality of baseball has been surfaced in multiple media outlets. Why don't more people care about baseball? What is wrong with baseball? How can baseball be fixed? Opinions haven't been hard to find. But most of those are coming from the outside looking in. 

Porcello's perspective is a little different. He is in the belly of the beast.

"It’s not boring to us," he matter-of-factly said. "Everything else feels the same. Yeah, the approach is different, but that’s the evolution of the game and that’s all part of it.

"I’m a player. I focus on doing my job and trying to be a good starting pitcher for a team every fifth day, but also bring some element of entertainment into that and I do what I’m capable of doing and that really takes up all my focus. The game itself goes in cycles. We’ve seen it over 100 years. Whether it’s balls changing. The Dead Ball Era. The Live Ball Era. The DH. Mounds being raised. General approach. Analytics. All of that stuff. It points the games in a certain direction and things become trends and things start doing certain stuff. That stops working or somebody finds another way to go about it, whether it’s hitting approach or pitching approach, you’re constantly evolving and recycling."

And if that didn't sum it up, Porcello added, "I’m not going to start doing splits. You come to a ballgame it’s up to you what you want to appreciate and what you want to get into. That’s what you get when you pay for a ticket. You can be the guy who boos. You can be the guy who cheers. You can be the guy who brings his kids. It’s up to you. I can’t control if people want to be into it."

But don't be fooled, however. Porcello has his issues with what is going on, and how his game can start fixing itself. Sure, these issues are a little more nuanced than simply complaining about time of game. But they are issues, nonetheless.

1. "This cat-and-mouse game"

"Personally, I can’t stand hitters that take forever, that call time, step out of the box. Pitchers that take forever. I don’t know a solution to that, and I know there’s never been a stop-clock on baseball, but that part of the game is brutal. When you have this cat and mouse thing going, the pitcher standing there, going through an extensive sign sequence because the runner on second is stealing the sign. Then he gets the sign from second and the hitter steps out because they know they didn’t have that sequence of signs and he wants it to reset so that the guy on second can get another look at the signs. It’s a three-minute pitch because there this cat and mouse game going on, with guys stepping out, guys stepping off. It’s brutal. You toe the rubber, throw the pitch. You step in the box, you can’t step back out. There has to be some kind of a rule because it’s ridiculous."

2. "The replay (expletive)"

"The replay (expletive), that’s got to stop. With the five minutes for an obvious call and they, quote-unquote, don’t have definitive evidence to overturn it so it stands. I was under the impression it was going to be 30 seconds and if they can’t get it by 30 seconds than it stands. We have replays every night that go over a minute-thirty and they’re still not getting the call right. Now you start to question what the hell is really going on."

3. Umpire accountability

"I think umpires can be held more accountable, just as players who aren’t performing are. They get released, sent down, demoted. Any other field is performance-based field. If you don’t do your job well enough they are are going to find somebody else they’re going to find someone else who can do it better. There are umpires who are flat-out not good umpires who have been umpiring for 15 years that are umpiring playoff games, behind the plate every four days. These guys, they need to be evaluated better and need to be held accountable. If not then everyone needs to start looking at alternatives as far as balls and strikes. I’m not saying go to an electronic strike zone because I have no idea how that would work. The way it is right now, you look at batting averages on the first pitch of the at-bat is one of the biggest pitches of an at-bat. You get ball one or strike one on a borderline call, that drastically favors the pitcher or hitter one way or another. Now if you’re looking from a percentage standpoint, the umpires have a huge impact on the game, just on the first pitch of an at-bat being called a ball or strike. That’s a part of the game where, yeah, it’s the human element, but we have the ability and the resources to hold these guys more accountable. If we can take that first pitch of an at-bat more seriously, then do it. Because right now the strike zone is different every night."

(Note: The umpires work on five-year contracts, with the current collectively-bargained deal running out after next season. They are graded through their own system on a daily basis, with no umpire scoring low enough to be let go during the previous round of contract negotiations.)

4. Placating the short attention spans

"We do it to ourselves. All the premier seats in the stands have a TV monitor. Are you watching the game or are you watching the TV screen? Then everyone has their phone. It’s just naturally in our culture, keeping attention and a captive audience."

Porcello then shifts to some of the good in the game ...

1. The game for everyone

"I think one of the really good things about baseball is that this is a game that everyone can enjoy, from kids to adults. There is the most variety of backgrounds in baseball than any other sports. All different kinds of upbringings, all different parts of the world. It’s pretty cool. That’s something you don’t have to be from this country to enjoy and follow guys."

2. Change isn't always a bad thing

"People are complaining about the game-changingg, but every sport has changed. Nobody bitches about nobody playing defense in the NBA and the scores being 140-130 every night. In the NFL teams are throwing the ball 50 times a game and sometimes they complete 17 passes. That’s the evolution of sports. Everyone is looking for a new way to do it, or something that another team can’t defend. This is where we’re at right now. It doesn’t concern me. It’s either going to work and be something teams feel strongly about and teams will win championships, or it’s not and they are going to go back to doing different things."

3. It is what it is. So sit back, and soak it in.

"I don’t know of any other way you can keep the crowd entertained. This is the product that you pay to come see. There are two ways to go from here: One, keep coming if you enjoy it. The other is if you don’t like then don’t come. You can make the decision for yourself."

It's one man's perspective, with this man just happening to be in the middle of it all.

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