Bob Costas: MLB faces obstacles to play; If it’s a go, legendary host embraces trials to pick up the pace


Will baseball start or won’t it? Like the direction of the virus itself, no one knows for sure? Even the experts of experts won’t project dates or a time frame with complete certainty. And Bob Costas won’t either.

Costas has been our trusted host for countless sporting events from all over the globe. Whether it’s been the Olympics or other championships, like racing, hockey, basketball and football, Bob has covered the biggest of stages. As most know, Bob’s special love is baseball, a game he has championed for decades. 

So if there’s anyone longing for a return of the sport, it is he. Bob’s followed baseball for some sixty years and still calls games regularly on MLB Network.

I checked in with him last week to get his take on where things might be headed.

How do you feel about baseball being played this year?

I’m somewhat skeptical that any games will be played. If they play without fans, it requires more than quarantining. Baseball can’t be socially distanced.

  • Are you not going to hold a runner on first base?
  • Are you not going to tag him out on a pickoff play?
  • Will you ban spitting in baseball? It’s as much a part of the game as a strikeout or a home run.
  • Even without fans, someone has to pickup towels in the locker room!
  • Let’s take it a step further. Players will get injured. Is there a taxi squad of AAA players at every position? Are they all quarantined too, just playing catch somewhere in a hotel lobby, waiting for the call? There are many concerns and drawbacks.

I hope they’ll be able to play -I’m just dubious on whether they’ll be able to pull it off.

How about the idea of the game being consumed essentially on television?

If it’s all about television, think about what goes into the game production. Anyone who has ever been in a production truck, knows that there’s no such thing as social distancing. If the crew was any closer, they’d be sitting on each other’s lap.

If the season does start, is it time to experiment?

Baseball fans will accept that this as a unique situation. Try any of the ideas that have been thrown out. Anything short of running the bases clockwise!

  • Fiddle around with an electronic balls and strikes.
  • Fans will accept 7 inning games.
  • Try doubleheaders.
  • I don’t like the idea of putting a man on second in the 11th inning of an extra inning game, but this is the time to experiment with it.
  • Now is the time to try a pitch clock.

Other ideas to pick up the pace of baseball?

Make sure that hitters don’t leave the batter’s box. This is the time too to do it. See what works. Empower the umpires to enforce the rule. Convince players to agree to it because it’s to everyone’s advantage. If baseball is a better entertainment product, we all benefit from it.

How about post-season?

Use an altered playoff structure. It can serve as a trial balloon for when things return to normal. I’d be cautious about diluting the regular season too much to increase playoff inventory – but again, if it’s to be tried, now’s the time.

What are your thoughts about the rule already scheduled to be initiated. Pitchers have to face at least three hitters or complete the inning?

It’s maddening -just maddening – when teams use a dozen pitchers combined, in a 4-2 game. I’s not good for the game as an entertainment product.

It’s one thing to apply the rule in a regular season game in June. The game is three hours old and fans might say, ‘I can’t watch this anymore.’ But in a World Series, a one run game in game #7? A right handed reliever is about to face a left handed batter and you can’t bring in your lefty? Pitching changes can’t be made because of the three batter rule? Fans will say, “What’s this?” With the whole season on the line, a manager can’t maneuver his staff with the whole season on the line?

Address the countdown clock specifically.

With no one on base, I like it. With someone on, it’s problematic. It should be experimented with now and it has a place when things return to normal.

Of all these rules, the dumbest in all the major sports is the NFL overtime rule in post season. The NFL examines every play from 18 different camera angles. Now overtime is forced and fortunes are left to a coin flip. Say, the Patriots win the coin flip and the Chiefs never see the ball. The Patriots score and win. Is that just the way it goes?



David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year + industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History and The Fundamentals of Sports Media and Sponsorship Sales: Developing New Accounts.

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Michael Green
3 years ago

Costas nailed one of my pets named peeve: people in and out of the batter’s box. I remember Doug Harvey, the greatest umpire I’ve seen, telling players he would order the pitcher to pitch unless they had a good reason to back out. That would really speed up the game. He’s also right that this is the season to experiment if they play. We’re not going to have a regular schedule, so why worry about it? Recall that Bill Veeck once was going to have an experimental spring game when he first owned the White Sox with all the changes… Read more »