Baseball needs tweaks, not major reconstructive surgery

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Let’s start this off with a couple tweets about Jon Lester‘s thoughts on the new pitch clock that will be implemented in AAA and AA this year:

The second one is just Ted Cox inserting an opinion of his own, but a three-hour game will feel about the same whether it ends after 2 hours and 45 minutes of 3 hours and 30 minutes.  So I sort of get the point there.  I also get what Jon Lester is saying, because the moment any kind of clock is implemented in baseball is the moment when it loses its timelessness, which is, as he said, part of the beauty of baseball.  You HAVE to play all 27 outs, and no buzzer (barring an act of God after five full innings) will bail you out.

I sort of like the idea of a pitch clock, as I blogged last summer, but the more I think about it, the more I wonder how it might affect the game play we’ve gotten used to.  There are some things that might not really need a clock, just umpire discretion, and that’s part of the problem…the umpires don’t really enforce the existing rules.  From previous:

I should point out that Rule 6.02 gives the umpire the liberty to call a strike whenever the batter causes an unnecessary delay, and Rule 8.04 specifically states a 12-second pitch clock between the pitcher receiving the ball and delivering the next pitch.

So the rule is there, the ump just doesn’t care, or has better things to take care of.  It’s kind of like the NBA no longer calling traveling violations.  If the ump just keeps his internal chronometer rolling, sort of like how NBA officials keep track of inbounds time limits, that should be fine, though a pitch clock obviously holds everyone accountable.

A bigger problem is the lengthy replay reviews with manager gamesmanship to figure out whether to challenge or not.  And I think the major issue isn’t with how LONG the games take, but more with the uneven flow because of cup checks, glove taps, meanderings in and out of the batter’s box to collect one’s thoughts, etc.  This is not lost on MLB, who are seriously looking into this after experimenting in Arizona Fall League and implementing the pitch clock, among other things yet to be finalized, in the upper minors this year (h/t Jayson Stark).

Stark’s article puts the pace vs. time philosophy front and center:

What’s the goal here? What is baseball really trying to accomplish by attacking this “problem?”

Is it trying to make games shorter? Or is it mostly trying to make games appear to be moving along quicker? And how does anyone know that doing either (or both) would magically make the game more lovable to a younger audience?

This is a problem because of how everything is geared towards about 250-350 events (pitches plus pickoff attempts) that constitute the bulk of a nine-inning game of baseball, but that take up making less than 20% of the total game play.  The rest of the time is spent thinking about what the next play is going to be.  But let’s look at what Buck Showalter says:

“The thing that gets me about all this,” said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, “is that there are only two groups of people I hear consistently complain about the pace of games, and that’s the umpires and the media, people who are at the game 162 times a year. But that family of four in the stands, those people who come to three games a year, I don’t hear them complaining about the length or the pace of games. So what’s the endgame we’re trying to get to? … What are we basing this on?”

That family he’s talking about sounds like me!  And maybe you, too.  And getting back to the time spent thinking about the next play, that’s part of the beauty of baseball.  You never know what’s going to happen next, but you can at least think about what SHOULD happen in order to either advance the runner, score a run, or get the out.  And the family, in this case, my son and myself, can spend that time learning about the game and analyzing the game action in a nice ball park while scarfing down extremely unhealthy food.  There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with that, and spending time together helps to make the game pass by faster anyway.

I actually like the frequent breaks in baseball, to be truthful.  Having 20-30 seconds in between plays allows me to take a super-quick bathroom break, grab a snack, go back to my work, etc etc.  At the ballpark, having the two-minute break in between half-innings allows the same, and the vantage points and televisions around the park/concourse helps to keep track of the action as well.  It’s not such a terrible thing to have consistent and predictable breaks in the action.

Maybe what needs to happen isn’t a wholesale revamp of baseball “action” and “pace,” but better marketing and education of how the game is supposed to be played.  I mean, golf is boring as shit but millions of people still play and watch it, allowing the best in the world at the sport to continue raking in the dough, so there shouldn’t be any reason why baseball can’t do the same.  I’m unfortunately not a kid anymore (wah) but it’ll take a very creative MLB focus team to rework the marketing so that the average kid will want to give baseball a try, or at the very least try to get their parents to take them to a game every now and then.

As I evolve as a baseball fan, I realize that the game I grew up with isn’t that bad in terms of time.  I also realize that I just want to stay at the park as long as I can, or keep the action on my TV/radio as long as possible (within reason, of course; 14-inning marathons are ridiculous, and eventually I gotta get home to walk the dog and not so late that I get mugged on the CTA).  I don’t think MLB needs to limit pitching changes or anything drastic like that, but shaving a few seconds here and there by mandating that a batter stay in the box isn’t a terrible idea at all.  I want the battery to continue to have the freedom to be unpredictable, so pickoff attempts ahoy.  But the umpire should have more power to force the future Steve Trachsel and Doug Davis types from delaying the game unnecessarily to gain a mental advantage or whatever it is they’re trying to do.  You know the signs, you know the batter, just throw the damned ball.

As a fan, I don’t have all the answers and I have some level of faith that a group of reasonable intelligent people in the MLB offices will figure this out so we can have a happy medium.  Baseball is notorious about “fixing problems” though, which is why we continue to have the All-Star Game decide World Series home field advantage.  But in my opinion, baseball just needs to enforce the existing rules and put a one-minute clock on replays while keeping managers in their dugouts.  Leave everything else alone.


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About Rice Cube

Rice Cube is the executive vice president of snark at World Series Dreaming. He loves all things Cubs, with notable exceptions (specifically, the part of Cubs fandom that pisses him off). Follow on Twitter at cubicsnarkonia

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