Posted on June 14, 2024



The "Purist" Put-Down

A weak excuse for ruining sports


Daniel Clark



In yet another of the radical changes that have become too commonplace in the world of sports, the Southeastern Conference introduced the "safety base" at this year's postseason baseball tournament. This invention, designed to reduce collisions during close plays at first base, is basically two conjoined bases that straddle the first base line. The actual, official first base rests in fair territory as it always does, while the duplicate, different-colored base (in this case green) sits on the opposite side of the line. That way, the batter runs to one base, and the fielder the other, thereby removing some of that naughty element of competition from the game.

After one tournament game on the SEC Network, a coach and two announcers sat around a table, all of them agreeing that of course the safety base is a good idea, even though "the purists" aren't going to like it. There was a time when lots of sports fans self-identified as purists, but these days purists are the bogeymen, spoken about by sports media figures with the same contempt with which liberal legal scholars might refer to strict constructionists. The purist designation has always been a caricature, because there is no "pure" form of any sport. Almost everybody is willing to accept certain changes, when they are enacted with reasonable deliberation. What a lot of us don't like is to have significant and even radical changes that are whimsically imposed.

In this case, the entire college baseball regular season had gone by without the safety base, or any reason for anyone to wish it was there. All of a sudden, at the championship tournament of the nation's best conference, they plop down a new piece of equipment, with new rules to go along with it. On a ball that is hit to the outfield, the batter is to use the real first base, because there will be no first baseman there obstructing his path. On an infield grounder, however, he must run to the green safety base in foul territory, because the first baseman will be positioned inside the line to accept a throw from another infielder. If the batter tries to reach first base after the catcher drops the ball on a strikeout, he and the first baseman must flip positions, with the batter running to the regular base, and the first baseman occupying the safety base, because the catcher will be throwing to him in foul territory.

So, to summarize, Player one runs to the white base and player two to the green base in scenarios A and C, but they reverse positions in scenario B, and this is designed to prevent them from running into each other. If you don't think that's a good idea, then you must be one of those dastardly purists, living in your own little anachronistic, socially repressive Leave It to Beaver world in which there's only one first base. Why don't you just repeal the Civil Rights Act while you're at it, you curmudgeonly enemy of progress?

The "purist" put-down is just the usual liberal tactic of making all arguments personal, so that they may then be dismissed for that reason. If you object to ghost-runners, three-on-three overtimes and touchbacks for fair catches in the field of play, that's just because you happen to be a certain way, and not because those ill-conceived, impetuously imposed rules have been detrimental to their respective games.

Sports being a microcosm of society, there can be little doubt that there is a political facet to these relentless attacks on their basic structure. It's as if the athletic equivalent of the Warren Court has been wreaking havoc for the past twenty years, and is only gaining momentum. American sports are the pith of American culture, and you have to change American culture to succeed in "fundamentally transforming the United States of America," as Barack Obama was famously committed to doing. Why else do you suppose fans have had to endure four years of raised fists and rainbows, sports leagues taking partisan political positions as MLB did in denying Atlanta the All-Star Game, teams implementing "green" initiatives, collegiate conferences running PSAs extolling "social justice," and racially segregated national anthems at the Super Bowl?

This is not to suggest that there's an organized campaign to destroy sports, but leftists are always leftists first, and whatever else they are second, if that. Nobody wants to fundamentally transform something he loves, but sports are being fundamentally transformed all over the place. It's not a scheme, but an instinct that is driving the process. When professional and college sports returned during the COVID lockdowns and after the George Floyd riots, it was only typical that the liberals who dominate those institutions would take advantage of a captive audience by assaulting it with anti-American demagoguery. They had probably been itching to do such a thing for decades. No conspiracy was necessary.

As if a built-in proclivity to tear down traditions wasn't enough motivation in itself, the liberal minions of the sports world have adopted safety as the prime justification for their wanton acts of vandalism. Last season, Major League Baseball expanded the bases from 15 to 18 square inches. Like the SEC safety base, this un-funsized version was concocted in order to cut down on collisions at first base, which has strangely become a fashionable cause in spite of not having been an issue for 150 years. Will bigger bases make the game safer? Who knows? Maybe middle infielders will get injured more often, with second base not quite being where they've always expected it. As long as we're overreacting, why deliberately place three trip hazards on the field in the first place? Perhaps the bases will soon just be white squares painted on the field, or digitally superimposed.

Physical play around the bases has always been a part of the game, but if it's suddenly such a concern, then shouldn't most of the busybodies' energy be directed at home plate? Why not eliminate the threat of injury in this case by adding an extraneous base line, leading from third base to a "safety plate" in the middle of nowhere, so that the runner and the catcher are no longer battling for the same strip of territory?

If first base is so unsafe, then so is the entire game of baseball. How many collisions do you see in the outfield every season? How many fielders run into walls and railings while chasing after foul balls? How many batters are injured by pitches, or pitchers by batted balls? By the time the game has been made ouchless, there will hardly be anything left of it.

The National Football League has just banned the "hip drop tackle," which basically consists of wrapping up an opposing player at the waist and falling onto his legs. If this sounds extremely commonplace, that's because it is. Routine plays have become intolerable in the NFL, because no matter what new rules the league comes up with, there will always, inevitably be a new most dangerous play in football, which must be eradicated.

Not all sports injuries are caused by physical confrontations, though. Because fatigue leaves athletes more susceptible to injury, there's a movement afoot to change the rules of various sports to prevent the players from becoming tired, even though a "purist" might find that absurd. The indefinite length of baseball games, previously thought to be one of the charms of the sport, is now considered a menace. Hence the "ghost runner," a player who is awarded second base at the start of an extra inning without having to earn it, in hopes of ending the game sooner by increasing the likelihood of a score.

In college football, when a game remains tied after two overtimes, it is decided by having the teams take turns attempting two-point conversions, instead of each running an entire offensive series. How badly has the structure of the game broken down when you can score a conversion without a touchdown?

Every physical act carries with it some possibility of injury, but as dangerous activities go, running to first base probably ranks somewhere between ice fishing and tai chi. Nevertheless, an athlete must not be allowed to accept certain risks as the cost of participation. That's too much like free enterprise.

You don't have to be whatever a purist is to recognize that the structure of every major sport is under attack. In football, you can no longer tackle high, or low, or around the waist, or on a boat, or with a goat, or just about any other way. The National Hockey League is so aware of the illegitimacy of its overtime and shootout rules that it awards a point in the standings to the losing team. In the National Basketball Association, the rules have become so subjective and so inconsistently applied that the referees have become like walking Magic 8-Balls.

It's doubtful that anybody exists who disagrees with every proposed change to every sport, but fans are fans because they love the sports they follow. That makes them the natural enemies of those fundamental transformers who treat them so spitefully. The leading conference in college baseball has gotten so carried away with the trendy iconoclasm of the day that it is actually questioning the definition of a base. The mere fact that the subject had come up for discussion should have set off alarm bells in living rooms across America. If the people in that league want to play ball with two first bases, then let them invent their own game, and leave ours the hell alone.



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