Delayed Gratification Baseball shouldn't alter its rambling pace to fit our go-go era--or a TV time slot

April 18, 1999

Impatience is a virtue in America, where even fast food isn't
fast enough. Americans once ate leisurely dinners but then
discovered TV dinners, and then McDonald's, and then the
drive-through window at McDonald's, and finally the number-coded
meal ordered through the drive-through window at McDonald's. The
trouble with instant gratification is that it takes too long, a
notion best expressed by comedian Steven Wright, who aspired to
put instant coffee in a microwave oven and actually go back in
time.

Baseball was once a happy exception to this national antsiness.
In baseball gratification was delayed or never arrived at all. A
four-hour game might end in rain. Your Cubs might not win for
three quarters of a century. The impossibly cheap prizes awarded
in contests administered by the Topps Company always required
six to eight weeks for delivery. Baseball introduced "Wait till
next year" into the public lexicon. But who has time to wait
anymore?

In its account of a recent Cubs victory, the Associated Press
declared, "Sammy Sosa remained homerless for the season...." It
was only the Cubs' third game, but already Sosa was consigned to
a homerless shelter, hopelessly behind a record pace. Perhaps
that's a blessing. If he or someone else does take the nation on
another joyride this summer, it will be one in which members of
the media shout daily from the backseat, "Are we there yet? Are
we there yet?"

Why is baseball suddenly in a hurry? Commissioner Bud Selig
announced last week the creation of the Hank Aaron Award. It
will annually honor the "best hitter" in each league. "The Hank
Aaron Award is on a par with the Cy Young and the MVP," said
Selig, as if the trophy, sponsored by a lemonade firm, can be
made instantly historic and prestigious simply by decreeing it
so. The best things in baseball have always been worth waiting
for. The eminent baseball writer Roger Angell publishes perhaps
two pieces a year in The New Yorker: one in the fall (on spring
training) and one in the spring (on the Fall Classic). And no
one's telling him to speed it up.

During the Yankees' hopelessly shower-soaked home opener last
Friday, new Bombers TV analyst Tim McCarver suggested waiving
the mandatory 45-minute waiting period before a game can be
called due to rain. It was an outrageous proposal. For years the
only upside to Braves games were the impromptu Sanford and Son
marathons shown during Biblically long rain delays on the
Superstation.

Everything about baseball, from the games to the season to Randy
Johnson's mud flap, is too long by half. But that is baseball's
peculiar charm. Which is why we should thank the Man
Upstairs--which is to say, the official scorer--for the box
score. The box score is like the Oscars: It gets longer, more
tedious, more self-important every spring, and I say more power
to it. Indeed, the standard box is now a ludicrously complicated
rectangle half a foot long. The box score in my morning paper
lists not only those players who grounded into double plays but,
even more uselessly, the double-play combinations that turned
them.

Ninety years ago Franklin Pierce Adams wrote:

These are the saddest of possible words: "Tinker to Evers to
Chance."

Trio of bear Cubs and fleeter than birds, Tinker to Evers to
Chance.

Last Friday morning box score archaeologists were rewarded with
this notation in The New York Times: DP-Minnesota 1 (Guardado,
Hocking and Mientkiewicz). It was agate poetry, well worth 45
minutes of digging to discover it, and I couldn't help but think:

These names are baseball's most polysyllabic--Guardado, Hocking
and Mientkiewicz.

Triplicate Twins or unplayable Scrabble rack? Guardado, Hocking
and Mientkiewicz....

The Supremes said you can't hurry love. I say you can't hurry
baseball. Which may be why it is one game still worth loving.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)