Johnny Bench couldn’t believe it.
The legendary catcher for the Big Red Machine stepped to the plate in with runners at the corners and the Cincinnati Reds leading the Oakland A’s 1-0.
There was one out as Bench came to the plate in the top of the eighth inning of Game 3 of the 1972 World Series. On strike one, base runner Bobby Tolan stole second. After the second strike on Bench, A's manager DickWilliams, who was also the manager of the 1967 Impossible Dream Red Sox, went to talk to Rollie Fingers for a meeting. The manager gestured toward the open base.
The A’s pretended they were going to intentionally walk Bench, and future star of the Baseball Bunch relaxed a little bit at the plate. Then catcher Gene Tenace jumped back down, and Fingers fired a slider to strike out the surprised Bench, who stormed to the bench.
That kind of tomfoolery will never be seen again. And it’s gone away all in the name of saving 12 seconds.
Yes, 12 seconds. That has to be about the average time baseball’s new intentional walk rule will speed up each game.
No longer does the team have to throw the intentional four balls for a walk. They just signal to the ump, and the player strolls down to first base. And the rule stinks.
Like just about every other rule baseball has implemented this century, it is a huge swing and a miss. Whether it’s the slide rules at second base and home plate or the proposed pitch clock, pretty much every baseball rule change even considered completely stinks.
That is certainly the case with the rules on instant replay. While baseball’s suits introduce rules to speed up the game — as if anybody worth worrying about ever fretted over spending too much time at the ballpark — it slows down and disrupts the flow of every game with replay.
They replay everything. On Sunday, we had to spend 2-plus minutes watching replays to see if Mookie Betts was picked off first base. Betts was clearly out, and replay got it right. But is this something that we really want from replay?
Replay was originally brought on to correct umpires when they clearly missed a home run call. Now we have to watch as managers challenge whether the runner held onto second base while the tag was applied on a steal.
Of course, we’d like to see ever call be the correct one. But we can’t be so nitpicky while also pretending we want the games to be sped up.
More importantly, it is just silly how the replay rules don’t treat all outs the same. A tag play on third base can be overturned, but a player or manager gets tossed if he questions ball or strike call.
If the home plate umpire misses a called strike three, and everybody and their dog can see it, shouldn’t that be a challengeable play? Sure it should.
If you can’t challenge balls and strikes, then you shouldn’t be able to challenge any other out.
Every out should be treated equally by those enforcing the rules. That means all 27 outs count the same, be it a pick off, fly ball or Dick Williams making Johnny Bench look silly.
It would be foolish to think baseball is going to change back. If nothing else, we’re going to see more new rules put in place year after year.
If nothing else, though, baseball should bring back the four pitches on an intentional walk. To make up for it, we can all leave work 12 seconds early on gameday.
Follow Bill Foley on Twitter — @Foles74