Paul Auster expands on his three-ball-walk, foul-ball-strikeout plan to speed up baseball


A couple of weeks ago we saw noted author and serious baseball fan Paul Auster write in to the New York Times with a radical idea to speed up the game: make walks only require three balls and make foul balls with two strikes into strikeouts. Today he speaks with Andy Martino and expands on that idea, explaining his rationale and talking about the potential consequences of the idea. He thinks teams should experiment with it spring training or something.

Sorry, still not sold. Maybe it speeds things up, but it would make the game unrecognizable. At the very least it would dramatically increase the number of strikeouts and walks there are and the lack of balls-in-play is already a pretty big problem these days. Underlying this is the idea that it’s inactivity and slow pace, not overall length of games, which is the problem. Auster seems to miss that.

It would also totally change the historical context of baseball. We already have multiple eras and contexts in which the game has been played, but we can make some relatively simple adjustments and still compare eras. With Auster’s plan, it would become a different game, rendering all of that historical continuity meaningless. Auster anticipates this, however, and says it doesn’t matter:

“Walks would become more dominant, with the three-ball walk. Batting averages would change. What I’m really proposing is a kind of new rules baseball, Baseball 2.0. But the thing that strikes me is that the record books have been tainted, if not completely destroyed, by the steroid era.

“I don’t think anybody cares anymore who has the all-time home run record. We all know Barry Bonds hit the most, but everyone knows that those numbers are suspect. And therefore no one is attached to these sacred numbers, the way we used to be when Hank Aaron was threatening Babe Ruth’s record 40 years ago.

As we have seen so often over the years, whenever someone mentions “sacred numbers” and records being “tainted” or “destroyed” one is engaging in nostalgic baloney. “Back when I cared about things 40 years ago it was all great, now it’s crap.” It’s a fancy way of telling people who did not come of age in the 50s and 60s that the stuff they like isn’t as meaningful and important. And if you feel that way, heck, I guess it’s all the more understandable that you don’t care about messing with the game like this.

Not a surprising dynamic. Even if it is surprising to see that a literary genius is just as susceptible to it as everyone else is.