Ugly flamingo

Once and for all. When they began referring to the free cookie on second base to begin each extra half-inning as Manfred man, I cringed. Not just because of the concept itself, but because I did and still do like only one Manfred Mann. And it’s taking every ounce of psychic strength to keep Manfred man from killing Manfred Mann for me.

For the life of me I can’t imagine Commissioner Rube Goldberg writing, never mind singing, the lyric to Manfred Mann’s greatest single and maybe the single prettiest love song of the 1964-66 British Invasion this side of “And I Love Her”:

Some sweet day, I’ll make her mine, pretty Flamingo,
then every guy will envy me, ’cause paradise is where I’ll be.

Because it was anything but some sweet day when Manfred decided it needed to be in the Show. And not every guy envies him for it. His idea of baseball paradise often includes detours into baseball’s Inferno. One of his predecessors began his professional life as a teacher and scholar whose specialty was Dante. We’re lucky if Manfred’s knowledge of Dante goes as far back as Bo Bichette’s one-time slugging father.

Many baseball “traditions” have deserved to go the way of the large stone bases with which the game we know began. Extra inning games without encumbrance or monkey business aren’t one of them.

Seriously. I get the alarm from teams concerned for the issues a long game one day leaves on their rosters for the game the day after. (Such issues are why I favoured the doubleheader of seven-inning games, and still do.) I get relief pitchers concerned for the extra erosion on their arms and shoulders if they’d worked a day or two before and then went into a late, long-lasting marathon.

But I don’t mean to say I don’t care whose arm gets ground down when I say that half the fun of baseball in the first place was the prospect of a tight game going to extra innings. When Astros rookie Jeremy Peña homered to end an eighteen-inning division series marathon and the Mariners’ season at once, it ended an affair that included twelve pitchers used between both sides and grand theater.

They don’t all go as marathon as that, regular or postseason.

They don’t all go 26 innings the way Brooklyn and Boston did in 1920, ending in a one-all tie because of darkness. (This was prehistoric baseball, before the lights went on in Cincinnati and in due course elsewhere.)

They don’t all go 25 the way the White Sox and the Brewers did in 1984 (this was the game that provided Harold Baines his [snort] Hall of Fame credential: he homered to end it), or the way the Cardinals and the Mets did a decade earlier. (This one ended with road running: the Cardinals’ Shake ‘n’ Bake McBride scored all the way from first . . . on a wild pickoff throw. No, they didn’t now dream up the pickoff throw limit the better to keep pitchers from being embarrassed by run-scoring throwing errors in the bottom of the 25th or elsewhere.)

They don’t all go 24 the way the Astros and the Mets did in April 1968, when the game ended on a classic Astroturf hit: a grounder skidding away from Mets shortstop Al Weis, allowing the winning run to score. (Credit to the Astrodome’s scoreboard operators for an inspirational message in the 20th inning: We hope you are enjoying tonight’s third game as much as you enjoyed the first two.)

Or, the way the Giants and the Mets did in a doubleheader nightcap in 1964, the Giants finally winning it and teenage Mets first baseman Ed Kranepool ending his day having played all 33 innings. (The Mets are the only franchise in Show history to play three 23+ inning games in their lifespan. They also lost all three.) In fact, in over a century plus of major league ball as we’ve known it, only eight games have gone 23 or more and only nine have gone exactly 22.

They don’t even all go eighteen, the way the Red Sox and the Dodgers did going eighteen in Game Five of the 2018 World Series, before Nathan Eovaldi’s stout six-inning relief performance was wrecked by Max Muncy with a leadoff launch over the left field fence. And I sure don’t remember anyone kvetching about the length of that one while it was ongoing.

So Manfred man was created first as one way to quicken things up during the pan-damn-ically shortened 2020 season, then kept year-by-year to quicken things up with or without a pan-damn-ic. Now, Manfred man’s been voted permanent by a joint competition committee until or unless voted otherwise by another joint competition committee. But who’s kidding whom?

Too many from Manfred onward complain incessantly about the length of baseball games. How many of those people kvetch about Super Bowl LVII requiring what proved to be three hours and thirty-one minutes to play? (No kvetch except over the halftime shows. I get that, too. For crying out loud, save the mini-concerts for post-game.) The team sport which yields its own singular blend of comedy and drama might take three plus hours—and even those who think Manfred’s as good for the game as a grease puddle to a pedestrian believe too much is more than enough.

“Certainly, everyone working at the game appreciates avoiding twenty-inning marathons,” writes The Athletic‘s Eno Sarris. “But those attending the game might disagree, and cite the fact that, with this rule in place, extra-inning runs have scored at over two times the rate they score in the first nine innings. That’s fundamentally different baseball! Their retort might ask baseball teams to build their rosters with more pitchers capable of going longer in emergency situations.”

The good news, and it’s the only spot of it in this regard, is that Manfred man still won’t show up in the postseason. Yet. The further bad news is that Manfred man won’t necessarily prevent the occasional extra inning games from turning into the equivalent of two games or even a third. There’s no absolute guarantee that Manfred man will turn into a run as swiftly as its advocates love to believe and its opponents per Sarris fear.

Suppose we re-aligned one of the actual key causes of protracted sports contests: broadcast commercials. (Admit it: at the stadium, you’ve seen players lingering before continuing play, the better to accommodate this call to the bullpen, that insertion of the special teams, the other double switch, the kickoff team’s advent yonder.) Imagine how much shorter a baseball game might be with broadcast commercials only between the full, not the half innings.

(Don’t go there: No, the Lords of Baseball don’t want their broadcast revenues cut; but, yes, they might go for negotiating delicious prices on mere full-inning commercials and getting them.)

Maybe that’s the core of the problem. The thinking person’s sport is somewhat overrun with short, shallow thinking. (It makes you wonder about the real objection to analytics/sabermetrics: it requires thought, and lots of it.) Starting with the man who brought to baseball’s extra half innings the ugly flamingo, also known as the ghost runner. (Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters, hopefully.)


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