Baseball’s Pace-of-Game Tweaks Miss the Obvious

In 1974, the average major league baseball game took two hours and 29 minutes. They still play nine innings and there are still three outs per inning, but in 2014 the average game time had increased to three hours and two minutes.

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Major league baseball has rolled out some tweaks to pace-of-game rules in a effort to stop the ever-increasing length of games. While they are right with a couple of these changes, they've missed some areas that would make an actual difference. And of course, there is absolute, total reluctance to establish any meaningful restrictions on the number of or length of tv commercials.

Among what baseball HAS done,
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is the following:

1. Install a new pitcher timer, where a clock measures the time a reliever has to come in from the bullpen and get ready for his first pitch. What is ridiculous about this rule is an artificial distinction made between local and network broadcasts. In games broadcast locally, a new pitcher is given 2 minutes and 25 seconds to make the trip in, throw his warm-ups, and be ready for the first batter. But, in games televised nationally, that time is increased an additional 20 seconds. Why? Are fans in the stands or watching at home less disgusted by the delays or less bored by the inaction if people are also watching, and getting bored and disgusted, 3000 miles away, as opposed to just 30 miles away? Of course, this distinction is there because of the bigger bucks for commercials in national games, and that extra 20 seconds means an extra, high-paying commercial.

2. Those times will also apply between innings, and batters will be “encouraged” to be in the batters’ box and ready to hit with 20 seconds left on the timer, but absolutely ready to go by the time the clock ticks down to five seconds. More importantly and likely more useful is the new rule that requires batters to keep at least one foot in the batter’s box at all times, unless one of a few specific contingencies such as a wild pitch or a time out occurs. Watching a batter continuously step out and take a leisurely stroll around the ball park is infuriating to fans, and stopping that will be a major advance.

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3. Another good move is that from now on when a manager wishes to call for a replay, he cannot go out onto the field, where first he takes another one of those leisurely walks, and then engages an umpire or two in "discussion" while a staff member reviews the tape to measure the likelihood of winning such an appeal. Now, the manager must signal form the dugout, and if that's not done immediately, play proceeds and the right to appeal is lost.

These are all pretty good, but where has MLB missed the boat?

First and foremost, they have totally screwed up the enforcement of some of these rules, as MLB has announced some procedures that give back the benefits of what they have legislated. For example, they have said that batter’s box infraction will be enforced by “warnings and fines”. Specifically, umpires are being told to NOT “go out of their way to indicate that a player has committed a violation”. Rather, they will keep a written record of violations, and at some point, presumably, players will get a bill in the mail. Even for habitual violators, umpires are being told to urge players to comply afterwards, and generally off the field.

This is just plain stupid. A batter should be given one very public warning per game, and each subsequent violation should be penalized by a strike being called.

Also, the good of the new batter’s box rule is significantly diminished by the lack of any new regulation of the Jose Bautistas of the world who are never ready to hit, but have a continuous, long and boring routine of adjusting batting gloves, hats, pants, socks, underwear, and whatever else they can reach, before every pitch.

Another needed addition is a pitch clock. There is no reason why some pitchers should be allowed to do the equivalent of the batter’ box routine, while standing on the mound, staring, thinking, staring, thinking, and basically breathing, while cobwebs form on the ball.

Finally, it is also time to get rid of that seventh inning artificial exercise of forced patriotism with the trudging out onto the field of some horrible excuse for a professional singer to do a half-assed rendition of God Bless American or some other such tune. This is a baseball game, not a concert or a political rally. Almost six years ago, I wrote about the disgusting practice then routinely done in yankee stadium where forced patriotism was taken to an absurd and illegal level, actually
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chaining fans into their seating areas during the performance of such songs.

Thankfully, after fans sued and significant monetary damages paid out, the practice was stopped. It’s also time to stop interrupting the game and end the singing itself as well.

These new rules are at least a first step, but a lot more needs to be done. There is nothing wrong with three hours and two minutes of action, even including reasonable time between pitches to think about and discuss strategy, but endless stoppages while batters and pitchers do little more than procrastinate, and fans cringe in their seats, need to be eliminated.

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