Last summer, ‘The Invention of Solitude’ author Paul Auster (above) took to the New York Times’ “Letters To The Editor” section to propose the following in the hopes of improving baseball’s pace of play ; “Eliminate the two-strike foul ball as a neutral play — neither strike nor ball – and rule it a strike. To compensate for the advantage this would give the pitcher, allow the batter to go to first base after three balls instead of four,” (“This way, no at-bat could last more than five pitches. Pitch counts would go down, allowing starting pitchers to go deeper into games, which in turn would reduce the dead time caused by changing pitchers — the primary reason games last so long these days”). On Saturday, the independent Atlantic League, previously best known for attempted career revivals by John Rocker, Carl Everett and Jose Offerman, put Auster’s suggestion into (experimental) practice during an exhibition game between the Bridgeport Bluefish and the Long Island Ducks. Though the contest was completed in a breezy 2 hours and 15 minutes, Auster tells the New York Times’ Jonathan Zeller that he doesn’t realistically believe his innovations will hit the big time (““I think the feeling among people in the major leagues was that it would be embarrassing”).
“The only way to know if this is a good idea or a bad idea in terms of saving time,” Auster said, “would be to get some computer whiz to play out 100,000 games with these rules and see what happens. One game’s not going to tell us. But one game will be able to tell me that these particular players either enjoyed it or didn’t.”
Bridgeport’s Sean Burroughs fell into the latter camp. “It was completely ridiculous,” he said. “The hitter’s already in a hole enough. You get two strikes, you’re up there battling, you foul off one pitch, and you’re out — that’s a joke.”
Auster said he saw some value in longer at-bats. He fondly remembers the five-minute-plus, nine-pitch strikeout the Dodgers’ Bob Welch threw against the Yankees’ Reggie Jackson to end Game 2 of the 1978 World Series.
“That was very gripping,” he said. “But I think something’s got to go.”