Resourcefulness, the ability to make quick decisions under pressure, is the hallmark of a professional athlete, and it's high time men good enough to play in the big leagues were forced to demonstrate they possess it. A semiliterate fighter knocked groggy can't call for time out to get advice from his handlers. There is no reason why a pitcher in full command of his faculties, if any, should be permitted to call a board of directors meeting whenever the heat is on.
Bill McKechnie, who participated in an Old-Timers' Day at Yankee Stadium shortly after he was inducted into the Hall of Fame a few weeks ago, was appalled by the endless gabbing. "What in the world can a catcher tell a pitcher if the guy doesn't come prepared to pitch in the first place?" he demanded. "Not a damn thing. We were in a lot of tight spots when the Reds won two straight pennants just before the war, but I don't remember Ernie Lombardi ever going out to talk to a pitcher. Everyone on the team knew what he was supposed to do. All this floundering is the earmark of sandlotters, not professionals."
There is no earthly reason why all conferences during a game should not be abolished. Before the opening of most series, the manager reviews the "book" on the opposition, discussing each player's batting weaknesses, speed and throwing arm. The battery has its signals. If further guidance is needed from the bench, the catcher can get it through signals by the manager. A wave of the hand from the dugout can order the infield to drop in to cut off a run at the plate or play back for a double play. The manager has two thumbs—one to jerk a wavering pitcher, the other to summon a reliever from the bullpen. There is ample opportunity to plan strategy between innings as the game develops.
What is the big brass doing to relieve the problem? They are doing what they characteristically do: nothing. Come to think of it, that's a good deal more helpful than the brainstorming that seized George Trautman, the minor league president, on July 20. Trautman gave approval to Jack McKeon, manager of Vancouver in the Pacific Coast League, to communicate with his pitchers from the bench by using a radio transmitter. The pitcher picks up the signals in a small transistor set carried in his shirt pocket. The next step, of course, is to rig up receivers tuned to the other side's wave length, thereby touching off another loud, foolish wrangle over stolen signals. (Pro football went through this ridiculous routine several years back, quickly abandoned it.)
Relief pitchers also are guilty of flagrant impositions on the fans' time. They saunter in from the bullpen like a banana republic's field marshal reviewing the troops and proceed to take the eight leisurely warmup pitches allowed by the rules. More nonsense. A quarterback comes off the bench in freezing weather and starts pegging the ball immediately. A basketball player requires a touch as delicate as a pitcher's, but he doesn't get practice shots when he checks into the game. A reliever doesn't come into the game cold. He has been throwing in the bullpen and should be ready to work as soon as he reaches the mound.
It would be an interesting experience in doubletalk to hear League Presidents Joe Cronin and Warren Giles explain what has become of the rule that states explicitly that a pitcher must deliver the ball within 20 seconds after taking his position on the mound when the bases are empty. No effort at all is made to curb the stupefying routines of too many pitchers before they step on the rubber. They dust their hands on the resin bag, massage the ball, peer morosely at the scoreboard, mop their beetling brows, hitch up their pants, kick divots in the dirt, stare with slack-jawed dismay at the catcher's signal and finally throw a ball two feet wide of the plate.
Then there is the dreary war of nerves between pitcher and hitter, each one jockeying to upset the other by stepping out of the batter's box or off the mound. When it is the pitcher's turn at bat, hundreds of children are born before he condescends to select a bat and amble to the plate. The hulk should be in the on-deck circle instead of lolling in the dugout.
Although there are many contenders for the dubious distinction, the No. 1 pest probably is the Body Beautiful type who regards TV as a heaven-sent invention to exhibit his muscles. If Rocky Colavito's calisthenics before he goes to bat were laid end to end, he would wind up where most fans would like to see him consigned. The next time the Angels play the Tigers, little Albie Pearson can strike a blow for the return of the two-hour game by mimicking Rocky, a public service that may even bring him the MVP award.
Irritating as the TV hams are, they do show more animation than the players who go to the other extreme by affecting impassive masks on the field. In a sense, the boys can't be blamed for putting on a frozen-faced act. They never know when the beady eye of the TV camera will catch them off guard and bring censure for conduct unbecoming idols of impressionable youths. A few years ago Mickey Mantle was spotted chewing bubble gum during a game. You would have thought he was nibbling on hashish the way he was denounced for encouraging a nasty habit. Time was when the players enlivened the exercises by exchanging remarks that enriched the earthy imagery of the mother tongue. Today they sit in the dugout like wooden Indians, Lip-readers may be watching.
The worst effect of TV's impact on baseball is the pall its harping on statistics has cast over the folklore and the esthetics of the game. That's right, the esthetics of baseball. Years ago Hendrik Willem Van Loon, a cultural historian, wrote in The Arts: "I am sure I never quite understood the real beauty of Greek sculpture until I saw Babe Ruth knock out a home run in the last inning of a very important game. Ruth may not be particularly interested in the Elgin Marbles (he may even think they are something he used to play with as a boy), but he came as close to being a living reincarnation of some of the best work of classical Greece as anything that was ever brought to my attention."