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In Defense of Ball Two

Today, in the endangered pages of the Boston Globe, writer Tom Scocca tackled the subject of baseball's most boring moment. His conclusion: it's ball two.

The unexamined essence of the game, then, would be an event that completely lacks both action and tension. Nobody swings the bat, nobody runs; neither team gains any real advantage. And you see it happen all the time. The most boring moment in baseball, the mud flat exposed at its lowest ebb, is ball two.

Ball two stands alone, above any of the other dull business on the diamond. The intentional walk at least adds a base runner to the game. The halfhearted throw to first to check the runner is a sign that the pitcher is feeling tension. But ball two signifies almost nothing.

The piece is worth a read, as we wait for the 8pm game to start. Personally, I find a lot of things about baseball much more boring.

#1: Pre-game shows.

  I find these almost impossible to watch. At least post-game shows allow you to bask in the glow of a good victory every now and then. But all I can think about when announcers are talking up a series is "Start the game already, dammit!" (SGAD).

#2: Pre-game festivities.

  The home game corrolary to pre-game shows, pre-game festivities are boring and generally provoke the same SGAD response. While there is usually a wonderful ambience to Fenway, seeing rich people throw out first pitches, sick kids parade march around the field, and bad vocalists butcher music does much to ruin it.

#3: Beer runs by the people sitting in front of you / next to you.

  This isn't so much boring as it is irritating. I hate having my vision obstructed by the three or four college kids who get up in the 4th inning for their third beer. It's also frustrating having to stand up and make way for these people when they sit on your row. There are better (and substantially cheaper) places to drink than Fenway, but I guess this behavior is fine. More revenue = More money to throw at Jason Bay and keep him here.

#4: Holding the ball too long. / Stepping out of the batter's box.

  Undoubtedly there are times when this is necessary, but too often it just serves to slow down the game. I get that you want to ice the hitter by holding onto the ball. Or throw off the pitcher by stepping out a second before their pitch. But in a three hour game, it does much to ruin the excitement. It's especially annoying when the crowd rises in clamor at a critical moment of the game, willing a strike out, and the hitter steps out of the plate.

Compared to these, ball two is nothing. Ball two is also just a call, and it can be full of meaning and excitement. For a pitcher who has walked the bases loaded, ball two is a disaster, and likewise for a pitcher with a 1-2 count who throws a perfect pitch on the outside corner, only to hear Ball Two. 2-0 against Evan Longoria is a nightmare for me; it means the pitcher probably has to make three good pitches to get him out.

Most events in baseball are condition-dependent. A solo homer, even a grand slam, in a 15-0 blow out isn't as impactful as an RBI-single in the 10th inning of a playoff game. Stealing second against Mariano Rivera in the 04 ALCS is more awesome than stealing home against Jason Johnson in a rout.