NEW YORKSaying it is time to "get tough on hitters," Acting Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig announced Monday the adoption of a hard-line Three-Strikes-You're-Out" policy on all at-bats.
"The American people are sick and tired of the same batters coming to the plate and taking pitch after pitch," said Selig after a day-long closed-door session of the Rules Committee of Major League Baseball. "There comes a point where we have to draw the line and say, 'Okay, you've had your chance, and you blew it. You are doing harm to your team and to your fans, and you are going to spend the rest of your half-inning in the dugout.'"
The strict new rule will replace the previous system, under which the number of opportunities a hitter had to put the ball in play was subject to the discretion of the umpires. Among the factors umpires had previously taken into account: difficulty of pitch thrown, degree of pressure from fans and teammates to get a hit, socio-economic condition of the batter, and whether or not he showed any remorse for previous failed at-bats.
But according to the drafted formulation of the new rule, slated to go into effect at the start of the 1997 season, the third time a pitch is either swung at and missed, or is "taken" but ruled to have "passed through a region of space sufficiently proximate to the batter to render his lack of effort to make contact ipso facto athletic negligence," he will automatically receive his sentence.
Foul balls will also be ruled strikes, Selig explained, but will not be sufficient grounds for declaring a batter permanently out. "Our purpose is not to arbitrarily punish," Selig said. "A foul-tip on a potential third-strike pitch still constitutes a mitigating circumstance, and any alleged pitching dominance must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt."
According to Donald Fehr, head of the Baseball Players' Union, many players view the new policy as unfair.
"Selig's three-strikes policy takes a draconian, one-size-fits-all approach to punishment that is totally out of line with human nature and common sense," Fehr said. "You're telling me that if some nervous rookie shortstop just out of the minors goes to a full count, then takes a screwball that barely catches the outside corneryou're saying that kid deserves the same punishment as a hardcore veteran like Jose Canseco taking three huge cuts and not even coming close? Come on."
Another critic of the new plan was Doris Kearns Goodwin, professor of history at Harvard University and a long-time baseball fan.
"This is a simplistic, election-year solution to a problem that won't go away," Goodwin said. "People are all too eager to pass 'quickie' solutions like building more dugouts, but they aren't willing to devote the time, money and effort into eliminating the factors that cause strikes: poor coaching, the breakdown of the close-kint team unit by free agency, and a group of largely white umpires more interested in punishment than in ways of rehabilitating and re-integrating struggling young hitters back into baseball society."
But many players, particularly pitchers, expressed satisfication with the new three-strikes rule.
"It's about time," Atlanta Braves ace Greg Maddux said. "In fact, it's too lenient, if you ask me. When I throw the first pitch right down the middle and some punk like Barry Bonds swings and misses by five feet, I don't feel he deserves another chance, much less two. I know what these guys are like, believe me. They never change. They're gonna get right back in the batters box and do it all over again and keep wasting the ticketpayers' money."
"These hitters have got to be punished," said New York Yankees pitcher Jimmy Key. "How else are they going to learn?"