Monday, July 7, 2003

Solving Baseball's Intentional Walk Crisis

Last year Barry Bonds was walked intentionally 68 times. No one in baseball has ever been intentionally walked so often in one season of baseball before, not Babe Ruth, not Willie Mays, not Hank Aaron, not Mickey Mantle, not Mark McGwire. No One. This is a crisis for baseball.

A new element has entered the strategy books of baseball managers. Put your threat on first base, so he can’t do real damage via a double or home run.

And as the rules are written today, what can Bonds do about it? Nothing.

He must stand at the plate and watch four thrown pitches fly by completely out of hitting range.

He is completely taken out of the game. The pitcher-hitter confrontation, the quintessential baseball confrontation, is completely taken out of the game at key points of the game.

Here’s my proposal to put Bonds and other major sluggers back in the game.

Any time Bonds or any other hitter is thrown four balls without any strikes during an at-bat, Bonds or any other hitter should have the option of taking first base or demanding that the pitcher continue to throw. If the pitcher then throws four more balls without any strikes, Bonds should then have the option of taking second base or demanding more pitches. If four more balls without a strike are thrown, Bonds should then have the option of taking third base or demanding to be pitched to. At this point there is absolutely no strategic reason not to pitch to Bonds, since four more balls to Bonds would result in a “walked in home run” clearing the bases.

Such a rule change, as articulated above, would put Bonds back in the game. It would add a further element of strategy to the game. At what point does Bonds decide to take a base? At what point do opposing teams decide to pitch to Bonds? Whether to hit or not is now totally in Bonds’ hands. Play Ball!

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