STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
With a new baseball season just around the corner - new baseball season - there are some proposed new rules aimed at making America's national pastime less passive. But commentator Frank Deford says, foul ball.
FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: When did the expression, not so good become so popular? It's everywhere now, highbrow, lowbrow, sad. For instance, basketball and football are really good at making rule changes to help their games - baseball, not so good. It's imperative that the game must offer more action and take less time as there are more home runs and infinitely more strikeouts from flame-throwing pitchers. Meanwhile, not a whole lot is taking place at first base, second base or third base. The commissioner, Rob Manfred, wants to raise the strike zone to the top of the knee because most batters have a hard time with low pitches, and the pitchers - no idiots, they - are throwing pitches 1.7 inches lower than they used to.
This wouldn't matter that much if umpires didn't call these actual low balls strikes. But baseball has this quirky little thing wherein umpires are excused from calling the real strike zone but are tacitly allowed to create their own. Then it's considered fine so long as the umpire is consistent with that alternate world that he's created. It's goofy. Remember when John Roberts was seeking confirmation of the Supreme Court, and he said judges should be just like umpires, just calling balls and strikes? Well, turnabout is fair play. What baseball needs behind the plate are umpires like those judges who are called strict constructionists, which means you follow subtle law to the letter. The strike zone should be what the rule book says it is and not a personal idiosyncrasy. If commissioner Manfred raises the bottom of the strike zone next season, it won't make any difference if the umpires keep going their merry way and calling low balls strikes. If so, maybe it's time then to have lasers call the pitches. The technology exists.
Baseball, though, is not alone in being slow to move ahead. Despite the fact that every sport this side of badminton worries about concussions that result in brain damage, CTE, the National Hockey League refuses to accept the overwhelming medical science. Good grief, the NHL still permits fights. Commissioner Gary Bettman, who is apparently brushing up his resume so he can get into the Flat Earth Society, wrote that any connection, quote, "remains unknown." Others of even the roughest sports acknowledge the connection between concussions and brain damage - the National Hockey League, not so sure.
(SOUNDBITE OF MR. COOPER'S "SEVEN")
INSKEEP: Throwing strikes over the plate, commentator Frank Deford, who joins us the first Wednesday of every month.
(SOUNDBITE OF MR. COOPER'S, "SEVEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.