Time for Softball to Clean Up Its Act – From the Bird’s Nest
I’ve been a college softball fan for about 25 years now.
And, it’s all Stefni Lotief’s fault.
Lotief was the first Cajuns’ All-American and watching her in the circle was a thing of beauty. One season, Lotief walked four batters…in the entire season. Back then you could go to Lady Cajun Park and watch the then-Stefni Whitton pitch a shutout at one o’clock. Then you could watch her teammate Cathy McAllister do the same thing.
And be back at your house by 4:30 pm.
Of course, the game was different then. The ball wasn’t very lively and didn’t go very far, even if you hit it well. 1-0 and 2-1 games were the norm.
That changed in 1993 when the NCAA went to a livelier ball in order to increase offense in the game. But the good pitchers still dominated the game and, when played at a high level, games were still low scoring.
Now, lots of runs are the norm, especially in the case of Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns, who have become one of the offensive powers in collegiate softball. In the early days, scoring 100 runs in a season was pretty good for then-USL. A couple of years ago, one player drove in 100 all by herself. Games are longer now, in part because of the offense.
But only in part.
I don’t get to watch very much softball any more. Because of my duties with Cajuns’ baseball, I’m fortunate if I get to watch more than a couple per season. Saturday was one of those rare occasions when I got a change to visit Lamson Park. And, it was great timing as the Cajuns were playing South Alabama, their biggest rival. Both teams are nationally ranked again this season. It was a beautiful day to go to the park.
Then the game started. And, that’s when I realized softball has become more about gamesmanship, poor game management by umpires and long at bats.
Saturday’s game lasted two hours and 39 minutes. Lots of nine inning baseball games are played in that time. There are some who have preferred softball to baseball because it takes too much time to play the the baseball games. Softball moves faster.
Well, it used to, anyway.
From what I saw Saturday (and mind you, this was a game between two high level teams) the sport is in trouble. The game Saturday wasn’t a long one because of the score (6-2 Cajuns.). It was brutal to watch because neither coaches, umpires or pitchers gave a damn about the flow of the game.
Between meetings with hitters, meetings with pitchers and meetings with umpires (ok, in some cases, arguments with umpires) there were, are you ready for this…31 stoppages in play. Dan McDonald, who did the game for myKLAF-TV counted them.
The rules state you can have an offensive conference every inning. And, sometimes that’s a good thing if you want to meet with a hitter in a crucial situation to remind them of their approach to the plate and what pitch to look for.
That’s in a crucial situation. But nowadays, two out and nobody on base is considered crucial, I guess. And, that’s because the coaches took a time out. Every inning. Whether they needed to or not.
Now, all of that is within the rules. But the way the rule is abused nowadays, the book needs to be re-written (are you listening, NCAA Rules Committee???) And, abuse is the right word. Coaches have the attitude of “if I can do it, I’m going to.” And, it’s hurting the game. Of the conferences that took place every half inning, I’m guessing fewer than half were necessary.
Imagine Cajuns football ahead 42-10. Less than two minutes to go. Cajuns ball. Mark Hudspeth decides to use his three timeouts. He’s not trying to score. He’s just calling time out. Why? Because the rule says he can do it three times in a half.
Or, Bob Marlin with a thirty point lead with a minute to go and three time outs left. He uses all three. Why? Because the rules say he has as many as four in the second half that he can use.
Do you see how absurd this is?
And the conferences last way too long. You should be able to tell your hitter everything they need to know in about 30 seconds. But coaches will take as much time as they are allowed to. That’s on the umpires.
I’d also like to know when softball started a rule that pitchers have to go to a three ball count.
That’s really something I’ve been noticing for awhile now. To an extent, it’s understandable. The game has a lot more offense . Throwing the ball right down the middle can be dangerous. But if you can get ahead 0-2 to a hitter, chances are you can get her out with what you’re throwing. There were six walks in the game (It seemed like about fifteen) and I’ll bet the pitchers were ahead in the count on four of the six. I can’t begin to think about how many 3-2 or 3-1 counts we saw in the game.
But a lot of this, in fact, most of it, is on the umpiring crews, who have seemed to relinquish the management of the game to the coaches. And, if you have a rivalry chances are coaches are going to use anything they can to get an advantage. Especially if they don’t like each other. And, if an umpire lets them get away with it, they don’t need to be umpiring.
Here are a few examples:
First off, keep the coaches in the dugout when they’re on defense. If they keep coming out to throw their hands up in the air on ball/strike calls, or say something about it, give them a warning. Maybe two. But that’s it. Play ball.
I’ve already said coaches should have a time limit on how long they can talk to their players. Whether it’s a pitcher or a hitter, it should NEVER be allowed to go over one minute. At the 45 second mark, let them know it’s time to play.
Between innings should be 75 seconds, tops. Because of sponsor commitments on Friday, we have to take 90 second breaks between innings in baseball. Friday night I missed at least one pitch every half inning. Why? Because the umpires kept the game moving. Some of Saturday’s went more than two minutes. Oh…and pitchers… if you don’t want to come out and warm up because your catcher is putting on her gear and you don’t like throwing to the backup, that’s perfectly fine. We’re starting up in 75 seconds. If you choose not to take warmup pitches, that’s entirely up to you.
And regardless of whether you have blown a call or not, coaches should only get so much time to state their case. Saturday there was a play at second base that got reversed. South Alabama coach Becky Clark came out of the dugout and wasn’t a happy person. The umpire explained the call…and…since it was a reversal, should and DID give a chance for Clark to chew a bit. All good umpires will do that, especially if they miss a call or have a reversal.
But, in this particular situation, it went on for SEVEN MINUTES.
That’s totally unacceptable. One minute to discuss and reverse the call. One or two minutes to let the coach come out and vent. But then it’s the umpires’ duty to say “Okay, coach, we’ve explained our ruling and we’ve given you a chance to state your case. It’s time to play. Then, his/her view of the game will either be from back in the dugout or out of the ball park. It’s called an ejection. Sometimes it’s necessary.
Now, many times this year, games have been closer to the two hour mark. Some even a few minutes less. And, some of them had quite a few runs scored. But obviously the umpires had control of the game and the coaches policed themselves. But each year, those shorter games get fewer and fewer.
And that is not good for the game.
One of the great things I’ve always loved about softball was how fast the game goes. Pitchers challenge hitters. Defense makes plays. Teams change sides quickly after three outs. That’s a beautiful game. It’s the one I fell in love with.
What I saw Saturday was totally and completely unwatchable.