In January of this year, over the objections of players, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred announced that a pitch clock would be introduced in the major leagues for the 2023 season. There would be a thirty-second timer between batters, and during an at bat, pitchers would have fifteen seconds to deliver a pitch after receiving the ball from the catcher when the bases are empty, twenty seconds when there are runners on base. Manfred stated that the pitch clock was a direct response to fan feedback. “What do our fans want to see on the field?” he asked. “Number one, fans want games with better pace.”
I’m on record as opposing the pitch timer, and I opposed it on aesthetic, even theological, grounds:
Baseball has the eternal built into it, from the circular nature of each player’s voyage around the base paths to its refusal to have the game limited by the constraints of time, and the pitch clock introduced something alien to the game, like a virus that couldn’t but compromise the health of something that was otherwise healthy and beautiful.
My own argument against the pitch clock was in large part written in opposition to the constant refrain about the need to speed up baseball’s pace of play in baseball, and I drew on Josef Pieper’s writing on leisure to make my case. In his classic Leisure: The Basis of Culture, the German Catholic philosopher argued that a society dominated by work is inhuman. To be fully themselves, humans need leisure, by which Pieper meant the time and focus required to contemplate things as they really are, to be able truly to see the underlying patterns that give meaning to existence.
Pieper ultimately connects such leisure to the worship of God, but I argued that baseball’s leisurely pace and deep patterns lend themselves to an analogous kind of contemplation, provided that those who attend the church of baseball open themselves in silence and equanimity to baseball’s contemplative dimension. And I suggested that the introduction of a pitch clock would disrupt this dimension by bringing the temporal into the eternal, the mundane into the extraordinary.
I don’t know how else to say this, so I’ll just have to come right out with it.
I was wrong.
In an essay called “Work, Spare Time, and Leisure,” Pieper wrote that it is possible for anyone to “touch, in contemplation, the core of all reality, the domain of the eternal archetypes” when gazing upon a flower or a human face, when listening to a poem, or when focusing on a sculpture or painting. He argues that such contemplation “can happen in countless actual forms,” and while some might quibble with my suggestion that one of these forms could be watching a baseball game, it’s not easy to dismiss the witness of those, like myself, who experience baseball in ways that can only be described as transcendent. Pieper would, I think, understand.
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