Ask the Sportswriters

Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times  editor-sports editor Gary Larson, reporter Luther Dorr, former Times intern Logan Marxhausen and sports fan Ben Johnson. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.

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•Question:  A story on page one of the sports section in last Sunday’s Minneapolis Star Tribune dealt with how long it’s taking Major League baseball teams to complete games. The story pointed out games are increasingly lasting over three and one-half hours, compared to an average of about two and one-half hours in the 1970s and early 1980s. Games are keeping fans (those who stay) in the ball park longer and TV viewers up until late at night (if they don’t shut the television off). Do you think games are too long? Baseball has rules in place to speed the game up – should those rules be more strictly enforced?

-Dorr: As much as I love baseball, yes, the games are too long. One of the great things about baseball is that there is no time limit like there is in other sports – the game doesn’t end on a clock, it ends when the final out is made in the final inning. But things have gotten to a ridiculous level, even in middle school baseball. Even at that level kids are adjusting their batting gloves and stepping out after each pitch. They should enforce the rule in the Major Leagues that says pitchers have to throw the ball within 12 seconds if there are no runners on base. You should not be able to adjust your batting gloves (in fact, throw out the batting gloves altogether) and you should not be allowed to step out of the box after each pitch. It drives me nuts. Again, I enjoy baseball tremendously but the length of games is completely out of control.

-Marxhausen: A lot of things are contributing to longer games, including the little things such as mound visits, time in between pitches, stepping out of the batters box and tightening the batting gloves after every at-bat.  Commercial breaks on local broadcasts can accumulate to 34 minutes and a national broadcast can reach 41 minutes. There are some differences from the 1960s to the present. In the sixties the starting pitchers pitched more innings than they do in 2013. That contributes to longer games. Some rules concerning the little things in baseball can be enforced, but MLB will have a hard time breaking up the routines of players. Should the rules be enforced? Yes. Will they be enforced? No.

-Larson:  Baseball is the perfect sleeping pill for an old geezer sitting in his easy chair as a televised Twins game eclipses two hours. When (if) the old guy wakes up he flicks the channel to ESPN and watches the bottom of the screen to see who won. There’s plenty to do (eat, drink) for the old-timer during breaks in the action if he takes in a game at Target Field. I’ve never left a professional sports event before the game was over. The delays, especially the ones by fidgety players, are irritating. But, nothing is likely to happen any time soon to change that.

-Johnson: I would have to answer both yes and no.  I think games are longer now days partly because of the number of pitchers teams use.  Back in the 1970s and 1980s teams would use two, maybe three, pitchers per game.  In today’s game teams use three to five pitchers in almost every game.  This part of the game has changed.  Because more pitchers are being used, the game takes longer as each pitcher needs to warm up.  I don’t think this can be or should be changed.  If you’d like to see more arm injuries try to limit the number of pitchers used in a game by somehow forcing pitchers to throw more innings.  Better yet, try to rush the pitchers brought in to pitch.  More injuries will surely follow.   I do however think games are too long in terms of time in between pitches.  I remember Freddy Garcia pitching for the Chicago White Sox. He was notorious for taking around 30 seconds in between pitches.  As a fielder, you tend to fall asleep when your pitcher takes that long.  When a ball is finally hit to you, you’ve forgotten how many outs there are and what to do with it.  I’d advise Major League Baseball to regulate the time in between pitches.

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•Question:  The Minnesota Twins chose right-handed pitcher Kohl Stewart with their first pick in last week’s baseball draft. Stewart pitched for a Houston high school this past season. Four of the team’s first five picks were pitchers, two just out of high school. Three of its top 10 picks were catchers. The team’s draft won’t be able to be assessed for several years, but how do you feel about the Twins concentrating on pitchers and catchers early on in the draft?

-Dorr: They need to concentrate on pitching, obviously. GM Terry Ryan said on the radio that they didn’t concentrate on catching but on Monday former manager Tom Kelly said they did.  I thought the choice of Stewart was good, although it’s a bit iffy to take high school guys. For one thing, they usually take longer to get to the big club. I’m interested in the LSU pitcher they drafted. I saw the Indiana pitcher they drafted when he pitched against Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament last month and look forward to seeing how he will do.  He doesn’t have a great fastball but has a very good breaking ball. Let’s remember before we get too excited about anybody, including hot prospects Miguel Sano and Brian Buxton – there’s a line from here to China of top-rated prospects that didn’t make it, some not even to AAA ball. Then, when these guys make it to the big leagues, they have to be put in the right place. For instance, on Sunday in Washington, manager Gardenhire chose to sit Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham against the Nats’ best pitcher. I know, Mauer played the night before but he makes $23 million a year and should be able to play the next day, especially against the other team’s best pitcher. That’s a joke. Then Gardenhire sat Justin Morneau and Ryan Doumit, the team’s hottest hitter, in the second game of the doubleheader. The team had an off day Monday and wouldn’t have to work (play) until Tuesday. Can’t those players grit their teeth and play two games in one day? They even had a three-hour rest between games.

-Marxhausen:  Concentrating on pitchers is a smart move by the organization. Great pitchers are hard to come by and that is why teams need to build a core of pitchers to rely on. Pitchers can come and go and be replaced year in and year out. They can have a decent year one season and fall to the minor leagues the next. Pitching has not been a strong side for the Twins the past few season and now they are working to build that part of the game back. Great catchers are also hard to come by. When Joe Mauer is unable to be a full time catcher, the Twins are going to want his replacement to be ready. The Twins have position prospects rising in the farm system and they felt that pitchers and catchers were a necessity.

-Larson:  As Luther mentioned, taking players right out of high school can be risky. Stewart, though, appears to be a good pick, and likely a very rich young man. He will receive around $4.5 million to sign with the Twins. He may have already done so by the time this paper comes out. His other option is to play football at Texas A&M where he’d be the heir apparent to quarterback Johnny (“Football”) Manziel, who’s predicted to be the first quarterback selected in the 2014 NFL college draft. A nice dilemma for someone who’s just graduated from high school.

The Twins need pitching and someone behind the plate a few years down the road and that was reflected by their top picks. A question. How has the Twins’ farm system suddenly gone from what was called one of the worst in baseball just a couple years ago to one now loaded with future stars, a dynasty in the making? Is there some slight-of-hand work going on here to take fans’ attention off the 2013 team?

-Johnson: The Twins addressed two areas that will be important in the years to come.  The team has somewhat depleted its farm system of pitching the last few years.  Since Johan Santana, Fransisco Liriano, and Matt Garza left, the Twins do not have a strong candidate to be the team’s ace anywhere in sight.  Hopefully the Twins can develop some of these draft picks into what Bert Blyleven would call “work horses.”  One would have to think in just a few years, Mauer (30 years old) and Doumit (32 years old) will be near the end of their catching days.  Maybe one of these catchers they drafted will scoot through the ranks and transition as their replacement.  I think the Twins are pretty set in the outfield with youngsters such as Hicks, Arcia, Parmelee, Buxton, and Mastroianni.  It will be interesting to see if Morneau is still around next year.  If he is not, who plays first base? Mauer?

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Do you have an opinion on any of this week’s questions? Do you agree or disagree with the sportswriters? Let us know by sending an e-mail to editor.millelacscotimes@ecm-inc.com or a note to Mille Lacs County Times, 225 S.W. 2nd St. Milaca, MN 56353. Or comment online.

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