Wednesday, in Rob Neyer's Sweetspot, Mr. Neyer commented sagely on another blog post concerning the intentional walk. The other post in question (you can get the link from Mr. Neyer's post) postulated that a rule change that changes the nature of the game shouldn't be considered just because the fans hate the intentional walk. Mr. Neyer correctly questioned the logic and reasoning of the original piece.
Bud Selig has gone on record a number of times stating his concern for the fan who has to spend diminishing money to go to the ball park. In these times, the concern Selig is speaking about is a real issue and families all across America are prioritizing how their money is spent.
Say a middle class parent in St. Louis decides to make a trip to see the Cardinals a priority because the parent's children are huge Albert Pujols fans. So the budget is carefully consulted and the parent makes a reasonable attempt to limit the damage and tells the kids they can have a popcorn and share a large soda. The family settles into their seats and much to the kids' excitement, Pujols is coming up to the plate in the bottom of the first inning. There is a runner on second and even though this is the first inning, the catcher stands up and signals the pitcher for four intentional balls. The kids are disappointed (especially if it happens multiple times in a game) and the parent is saying, "I spent all that money for this?"
First, let the Fan say categorically that the intentional walks to Barry Bonds earlier in the decade and the walks being issued to Albert Pujols (34 so far this year) are acts of cowardice. Yes, the Fan can see it in the eighth or ninth inning when the game is on the line. But geez, two out of the five times the guy gets to the plate? That's just playing scared and it may be smart, but it's a cheap escape and it does nothing but hurt the game and the fans who watch it.
The pitchers and managers the Fan admires are those that take the ball and force Bonds or Pujols or whomever and take on the challenge. As good as Bonds and Pujols were and are, they will still get themselves out six out of every ten plate appearances.
Should MLB ban the intentional walk? How effective would it be since the manager, pitcher and catcher would just have some other type of sign and the pitcher would simply unintentionally intentionally walk the guy anyway? It isn't the rules that you can change, it's the culture. Stress during the GM meetings and the owner meetings that the fans are what matter most and depriving the fans of the spectacle of a Bonds or Pujols at bat is a detriment to the game. Have those at the top send those messages down to the managers on the bench and let them know that such doings (except where the game is on the line late in the game) are unacceptable and unseemly.
If you want a rule change that can be enforced, make it a rule that a relief pitcher has to face at least two batters and put an end to this LOOGY business and the LaRussa/Piniella roulette of three pitching changes in an inning. Now that IS certainly a drain on the game (although it does allow the revenue stream of more commercials during a game for the television people).
The Fan hates intentional walks. They are the coward's way of baseball. But the Fan doesn't see where a rule against them will change anything. Try to change the culture. Because until you do that, managers will still find a way to work around Pujols and others when their inner chicken wing starts itching.