Sweetness And Light
3:18 pm
Sun March 16, 2014

It's Time To Shrink Home Plate

Originally published on Wed February 26, 2014 10:09 am

It's time to make home plate smaller. I know: That's heresy; that's sacrilegious. But there are simply too many strikeouts in baseball now, and that hurts the game, because if the ball isn't in play, it's boring.

The size of home plate was not decreed by God. Back when it was an iron plate — where the name came from — it was, in fact, round. It became rubber and a square, 12 inches to a side, but its present distinctive shape was established in 1900 — a full 17 inches across.

That's too broad for the pitchers today, especially when so many strikes are on the corners, or even "on the black," the small fringe that frames the plate. If you cut, say, an inch and a half off each side, pitchers would have a 14-inch target. Batters would have a more reasonable chance to try to connect. They'd swing more, put more balls in play. It'd be more fun, a better game both to play and to watch.

Click on the audio link above to hear more of Deford's take on this issue.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Commentator Frank Deford has been thinking recently about another piece of sports hardware.

FRANK DEFORD: All right: play ball. Spring training has started, more replay is coming in, Derek Jeter is going out, and it's time to change the size of home plate.

Well, what did he say?

Yes, time to make home plate smaller. I know, that's heresy, that's sacrilegious. But let's back up and I'll explain.

There're simply too many strikeouts in baseball now and that hurts the game, because if the ball isn't in play it's boring. The number of strikeouts goes up every season till the average is now more than 15 per game. Now, there're many reasons to account for this. Batters are taught to work the count, not swing right away. Batters don't choke up when they're down two strikes. They're not embarrassed to go down swinging anymore. The umpires call more strikes. Really, that's been proven.

But at the core of the problem, pitchers are faster and better. So many more of them can throw at well over 90 miles an hour. But if human beings can be conditioned to throw harder, especially relievers, only in for an inning or even just one batter, how much quicker is it possible for a human being to swing a bat? A reliever comes in and we say he's a fresh arm. Nobody says a pinch hitter is a fresh bat. He's just a different bat. And the fire-balling reliever strikes him out, so nothing happens and it's boring.

All sports tinker with rules and, yes, even with sacred dimensions. Basketball has widened the three-second area. The NFL goalposts used to be on the goal line. As hidebound as baseball can be, it lowered the pitchers' mound by a full third, 15 inches down to 10 in 1969. And the size of home plate was not decreed by God. Back when it was an iron plate - where the name came from - it was, in fact, round. It became rubber and a square, 12 inches to a side. But its present distinctive shape was established in 1900, a full 17 inches across.

Now, that's too broad for the pitchers today, especially when so many strikes are on the corners, or even on the black - the small fringe which frames the plate. If you cut, say, an inch and a half off each side of the plate, pitchers would have a 14 inch target instead of 17. And batters would have a more reasonable chance to try and connect. They'd swing more, put more balls in play. It'd be more fun, a better game both to play and to watch.

With fewer strikeouts, it would also speed up the game, which takes too long now. Understand, sure, narrowing the plate would help the batter but that's just a by-product. What it would primarily do is make the whole game better. It was a big deal when Mighty Casey struck out in 1888. It's a bore when everybody strikes out in 2014. Make the dinner plate a salad plate and improve the baseball cuisine.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: And you can get a taste of sports with commentator Frank Deford on the program each Wednesday.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEME MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.