Tom Columns

A Whole New Ball Game

The fan wants action. So baseball introduces the designated hitter, a bull moose who replaces the feeble pitcher at bat. The tedium of the old game is dramatically reduced. Fans stop bringing pillows to the ballpark, and more such changes are demanded immediately.

So baseball soon includes in the lineup the designated runner, a person who runs faster than your average bullet, replacing slower, less exciting people on the basepaths. Things are getting better.

But the fickle spectator is still not happy, and the cry for change is heard around the nation once more: "Change baseball some more," angry mobs of people chant, pleading for more lifegiving reform to be injected into the dying sport.

Baseball's leaders have found the key to success, however. "Designation is the key," they say to each other at their special meetings. "Let's give the fan more designated substitutions. Let's change baseball a whole lot."

As the old game opens another season next spring, the fan detects many changes. The first of these is the designated baseball. The home team overcomes crucial situations during a contest by designating a different type of ball to be used.

When the visiting team puts men on base, the pitcher calmly switches to a ping-pong ball, a nerf ball, or even a medicine or bowling ball, thus halting all chances of a clean base hit.

When the home team itself puts men on, the hometown fan watches eagerly as his club requests that the opposing pitcher pitch with a superball, and squeals with delight as another 800-foot home run is belted. "Designation sure is fun," the excited spectator says to himself.

His ballclub next invokes the new designated base rule, and designates that second base be placed in the stands among the fans for an inning. A screamy, grabby crowd goes wild as a ballplayer tries to fight his way through to second after a base hit.

"Designated bases are great," the exhausted fan says after stealing the undershirt of a player he overpowered in the stands near second base. "I feel like I'm part of the game. I sure love baseball now."

The next day at the ballpark, the fan realizes that he doesn't recognize what is supposed to be his favorite team. "Who are they?" he wonders, as he searches through his rule book for an explanation.

The outrageous occurrence falls under the heading of designated team in rule book, which states that "a manager may designate another team to play in place of his regular squad, subject to that team's availability."

"I like these guys better anyway," says the fan to his designated wife, whom he met in a bar just before the game.

Nearby, a spectator who was not yelling and cheering enough was being removed from his seat and replaced by a noisier, more cheerful fellow. "Poor devil," thought the fan to himself. "Struck down by the designated fan rule. What a shame."

In the middle of the fourth inning, the stadium was shocked when the umpires designated the final score as 3-2 in favor of the visiting team, and dispensed with the remainder of the game.

"Perfectly legal," said the fan shaking his head, "according to the new designated score rule." And home he went.

"I sure love baseball now," the fan said to his designated dog, a mutt who was walking behind him on the way to his designated house. "You can never tell what's going to happen next. At least it's not boring, like it used to be."