Our pal Tom Tango
did all of us pitch-timer advocates a great service: He went back to the famous Dennis Eckersley-Kirk Gibson at-bat from Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. And he put the pitch timer on it.
You’ll want to check out the whole thing, pitch-by-pitch, but let me give you my takeaway here, because (1) I, like Tango, have heard from several instinctively anti-pitch-timer people who worry (not without justice) that the timer will choke the game and cut into the drama and turn baseball into a sped-up version of old black-and-white Babe Ruth films, with the Babe running jauntily at Benny Hill speeds and (2) I have spent an awful lot of time on this at-bat in the last few months while writing my upcoming book, WHY WE LOVE BASEBALL
(spoiler alert: The Gibson homer is in there).
The Gibson-Eckersley at-bat might be the most dramatic duel in baseball history. I actually get into that question in the book (I can’t wait for you to see it!) but the point is: It plays out cinematically. Gibson limps out of the dugout. He takes forever to get to the plate. It’s an eight-pitch at-bat with some throws over to first. It lasts seven glorious minutes. And, yes, I’ve heard people say: “You don’t want to rush baseball! You want to let it breathe. You want to have moments like Gibson-Eckersley."
And here’s what Tango found: Gibson and Eckersley were in compliance with the pitch timer, even though it didn’t exist. Yes, there are quirks — Eckersley threw over to first more times than now allowed, for example — but the point is that this was the natural rhythm of the game. The batter was alert on time. The pitcher pitched on time. And this was in the most pressure-packed moment imaginable, with a Hall of Fame pitcher and a badly injured MVP at the plate.
Players absolutely CAN and SHOULD play at this pace.