Frank Deford is crying foul over the way baseball pitchers are being handled these days. And some NPR teammates help him toss his feelings around the infield:
Renee Montagne: A lot of baseball pitchers are getting returned to the dugout ... sometimes sooner than expected. Our commentator has some thoughts on that. Here's our play-by-play man, Steve Inskeep.
Steve Inskeep: Stepping to the mound, Frank Deford this morning. Hardly needs a warm-up after all his experience. Couple of quick wisecracks, and here's the first pitch.
Frank Deford: Increasingly, pitchers in baseball are ruled by the number of pitches that they throw. Reach a certain number — usually a hundred or so — and, no matter how well they may be doing, they're taken out of the game. Pitchers are removed from the mound even if they're mowing down batters like a veritable Lefty Grove or Walter Johnson — even if they're throwing a shutout.
Sure, this is a fine idea for Little League, where boys with undeveloped muscles may be overusing them as pitchers. I applaud the new rules which restrict the number of pitches a boy can throw. But with grown-ups? Is the average human arm deteriorating, even as the rest of our bodies get stronger?
Inskeep: There's Frank Deford, still in fine form, but this early in the commentary he's up to 117 words.
Deford: Why, there's even a relatively new statistic known as the "Quality Start." A quality start is identified to mean that a starting pitcher actually goes all of six innings and gives up no more than three earned runs. That translates into an ERA of 4.50 for nine innings.
This is quality?
Can you imagine Bob Feller or Warren Spahn or Bob Gibson coming meekly out of a close game in the seventh inning just because they'd thrown an arbitrary number of pitches? Good grief, is baseball turning into a platoon game, like football?
Inskeep: Oh, you hear that pop on the "good grief"? He's still got some heat on the fastball, at 213 words.
Deford: Can you imagine Peyton Manning being taken out of the game midway through the third quarter because he'd thrown too many passes? Or Kobe Bryant being benched after he'd made 46 points? Or telling Roger Federer in the third set: "Hey, no more backhands, Roger, you've hit enough."
Why that's as ridiculous as being required to bring in a substitute for Hamlet just as he's remembering Yorick at the start of the fifth act. "Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio" — and then, bingo, just like that you have to bring in a relief Hamlet to say "a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy." Or asking Joe Biden to put a sock in it on the Senate floor. Or not letting Kate Smith finish "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch.
Come on, quality over quantity.
Inskeep: And, I gotta say, I'm surprised this didn't happen earlier, but here comes Morning Edition's Renee Montagne, making that long walk to the mound. Looks like Frank Deford's going to be taking the long walk back ... After 353 words.
Montagne: Frank, hit the showers — you're done.
Deford: Wait, Renee, I'm doing great, I'm still in fine voice, and I have one more vitally important point to make before ...
Inskeep: It does count as a quality start for Frank Deford. And here comes the reliever out of the bullpen.
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