It's less three weeks before the Orioles pitchers and catchers report (Scott: same day for Cards pitchers and catchers; any other teams of note, please let me know off-line). So it seemed like a good time to kvetch about one of my pet peeves in modern baseball: the intentional base-on-balls. I can get the infield shifts, much as I dislike it (though Boog Powell's 1970 stats are as good an indication that even a shift can be defeated). Supposedly, hitting instructors in the minors have already begun training batters to use the whole field. As Buck Showalter put it, "You don't golf with just a 9-iron, you don't hit just to one side of the infield."

An intentional base-on-balls is when a pitcher wants to assure that a batter who might pose more of a hitting threat than the succeeding batter is thrown 4 unmistakable balls. Alternatively, a player might draw the IBB to set-up a double play. The decision to give a batter an IBB is often left to the manager, but some senior pitchers will issue them on their own initiative. In the Baltimore I grew up in, there was only one Earl—Earl Weaver, and Earl assiduously never used the IBB. An advocate of "walks will haunt," he wanted his players to walk, but he refused to give up a base if he had the choice; to him, an IBB was simply a base. (Then again, Weaver despised the 5 man rotation, asking why you let a 5th guy pitch when you had 4 who were better. I'm in agreement with him on both counts.)

The first IBB was in 1896, when a Giants manager Kid Gleason directed his pitcher, Jouett Meekin, to give a base on balls to Chicago (eventually known as the Cubs) batter Jimmy Ryan (he who scored more runs than any other play not in the HoF) so that he could to pitch to George Decker (who was hardly the threat Ryan presented). Decker struck out, the game was done, and the gambit worked.

The IBB caught on enough that the owners viewed it as something that took away offense (it took the bat out of someone who could presumably do some baseball damage with it) and prolonged the game. They tried to ban before the 1920 season (that being just before the BlackSox came to attention), but umpire-manager Hank O'Day lobbied against the move—and his argument prevailed. The compromise was that if the catcher moved out of the catcher's box behind home place before the pitcher threw the ball, it would be a balk, and the runners on base would advance. That's still the rule. Most of the IBBs I've seen have had the catcher not even crouch to take the pitch, so getting wide of home plate to catch the ball shouldn't be too challenging.

Whether the IBB should be eliminated or at least changed to something where the pitcher or manager indicates that there's an IBB in process, have been around for a while. The argument is that it would speed up the game. Speeding up the national pastime. Wouldn't be much of a pastime anymore. But as any parent who's taken their kids to the games knows, keeping kids focused on the game means having them watch hitting—and that's something the IBB certainly doesn't do.

The only instance I know of in which a batter got a hit in an IBB setting was Miguel Cabrera in 1986. Perhaps Stefan knows of some; I don't.

The trend in IBBs is decidedly down—at least since the early 1990s. Maybe it's that managers are more diligent in using the IBB, but as Weaver observed, it's still a base that's being given up. So it appears the iBB is becoming an endangered species.

I can only hope that it become extinct soon, though I sure there are the purists who think otherwise. We'll see what the coming season brings.

Play ball!


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