Vera Lu Senz grew up in post-war Chicago, one of three girls and 8 boys in a family of working class Poles where uncles, aunts, cousins, and undifferentiated relatives lived on the streets and in the alleys, beat the crap out of each other, and loved and hated with equal fury. She was cursing from the cradle, smoking at 10, drinking at 12, and, as she put it, “ate before she was seven.” Her mom offered her exactly one social instruction: “Girls don’t spit.”
Lu went to work for the Chicago Sun Times — she knew Mike Royko! — and eventually became a sportswriter, specializing in baseball, covering the Cubs. When the Sun-Times went to hell, she didn’t follow the crowd over to the Tribune, but became an independent. Her stuff was great: edgy, insightful, even prescient.
Now retired, she roosts at the Liquor & Rubber Balls Sports Emporium & Custom Footbinding where she smokes, drinks, curses…but never spits. Until now, that is, when I ask her what she thinks about MLB’s latest brain-fart: shortening games by starting extra innings with a runner on second.
“The idea is so damn dumb it drools,” she tells me (as I wipe my face). “You’re basically introducing a ‘simulated game’ component. The geniuses who cooked this up couldn’t find a smoked kielbasa in their own asses without a GPS.”
Duck Diamonds, professional gambler (and master goader), as well as another regular at this otherwise lesbian sports bar, shoots her a bemused look. “So you like these 5 hour games where the middle infielder comes in to pitch, is that it, Lu?”
Lu crushes her cigarette into an ashtray. “Tell me, Duck — are you ever sorry your mother didn’t have any children who lived?”
“Lu, the game is losing its audience — younger people just don’t have the patience to sit through 4-hour sleep-a-thons anymore. Nine innings is enough. Anything that shortens it quickly after that is a blessing, especially in these barbaric ballparks where they cut off the alcohol after the 7th. ”
I agree with Duck on that one, anyway. After 9 innings, they should sell nickel drafts. And open the bar to both teams.
“Think this through, Duck,” says Lu. “Top of the 10th, tie score, a guy trots out to take his free second base. Even before that — who gets to be the runner? Because what you’re now asking for is teams rebuilding their benches to include a speedy little asshat who can’t pitch, hit, or field, just kept around for situations like this. As bad as the DH is, the Designated Runner is worse.
“Anyway, there he is. So what does the batting team do any time there’s a runner on 2nd with no out? They bunt him over so they have a man on 3rd with one out where a long fly or a wild pitch can score him, right? Or maybe the fielding team’s first move is to intentionally walk the first batter to set up 1st and 2nd for a double play.
“No matter what, you’re asking both teams to play small ball for the rest of the game. Bunts, walks, drawn-in infields, rotation plays. There’s nothing wrong with this when it happens in the course of an entire game. But setting it up with a free runner in scoring position to start the inning is anti-everything baseball is built on. You’re essentially dictating to each team the strategy they gotta use.”
Duck shrugs dismissively. “Like you say, there’s nothing wrong with small ball. Maybe changing benches to include more runners and bunters is a good way to push back against the big boppers who strike out too much.”
“Get real, Duck. Teams can’t afford to carry players with roles that limited unless they want to jeopardize every game that doesn’t go into extras innings. It’s like drilling holes in a sinking boat to let the water out.”
“Really — is that worse than a 15 inning game where managers burn out their bullpens, pitchers play the outfield, and utility players come in to get three outs? You like that shit?”
Lu lights a smoke and smiles. “Yeah, I do. I like watching athletes pushing their boundaries, scratching for an edge. I like seeing managers improvising, maneuvering through tough situations. Not every day, not every game. But these are the sort of juicy, off-beat, bust-the-mold activities that make baseball so interesting. Bend the rules. Play head games.”
“Y’know, Lu, you make everything more difficult and mysterious than it has to be. How about this — if the game is tied after 9 innings, call it a draw and go home. Add a line to the standings –Wins, Losses, Ties. After 162 games you still have records to go by.”
“Well, hell — why not just fucking flip a coin? Or have a one-round cage match between the team’s mascots on the pitcher’s mound? I mean, if you don’t want to finish the actual baseball game by playing actual baseball, don’t do it half-assed. Do it full-assed.”
Duck looks at me. “I think we should go back to your idea of the nickel drafts.”
Works for me. Let’s start now.