Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

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The pace of a basketball game keeps commentator Frank Deford engaged. He wishes some other sports would learn.

FRANK DEFORD: In Milwaukee, cartoon characters dressed up like various sausages race at each Brewers' game; in Washington, five of our beloved presidents do their own bratwurst ramble. But the character I want to appear at every baseball game and at a couple of other sports, too...


DEFORD: ...is The Crocodile from Peter Pan who swallowed a clock and shadows a terrified Captain Hook.

Somebody has to scare athletes into playing faster. In baseball, golf, and tennis in particular, we are being slowwwly lulled to sleep before every pitch, every shot. The pretentious preparation is interminable. In baseball, the pitcher holds the ball, pondering what to throw, as if his decision - two-seamer or breaking ball - would determine the fate of humankind. In tennis, after every point, the server towels off more than a movie Cleopatra alighting from her bath, then carefully selects a ball, bounces a ball - again and again and again. And in fact, it rather resembles a clock.


DEFORD: Thank the Lord baseballs don't bounce or pitchers would do that, as well.

The irony is, too, that by delaying, the pitcher is surely helping the batter more than himself. The great Warren Spahn is attributed with saying: Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing. So Spahn got the ball back and promptly pitched it and thereby won 363 games, because the batter didn't have all that time to get comfortable.

In golf, protracted discussions with the caddy about the wind velocity and the choice of club, rival, I am sure, the nightly extended pillow talk between Bill and Hillary. It is estimated that four million golfers have given up playing in recent years because the game just takes too long. Cue The Crocodile.


DEFORD: Incredibly, too, these sports all actually have time limits in their rules. It's just that they're almost never enforced. The timid officials humor procrastination and celebrate boredom, by giving these spoiled athletes too much time to make simple decisions. It is also demonstrable that in the two popular sports where there is a well-publicized time limit, that is scrupulously honored - that's basketball and football - the need for the teams to produce a shot or a play in the allotted time, adds to the drama as the seconds count down.


DEFORD: He got it off in time. Clocks not only reduce the duration of whole games but they create regular little climaxes. Get me that crocodile with the clock. Sic them, boy. Sic them.


INSKEEP: It took Frank Deford two minutes and 56 seconds to say that. He joins us each Wednesday on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm David Greene.


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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford