Baseball is often characterized as a pastoral game, one that begins in the spring when the world is renewing, and ends as it is preparing to plunge into the great darkness of winter. It’s foul lines are often portrayed as infinite, at least metaphorically speaking. It is the only sport unbound by time.
Rob Manfred wants to change all that. He wants to add a pitch clock to speed up the game. That takes time.Manfred means to implement a 20 second clock, and limiting mound visits for 2018.
There is little question that games have gotten longer as more teams carry larger bullpens. More bullpens mean shorter outings for starters and more frequent pitching changes. If Commissioner Rob Manfred doesn’t like that, I encourage him to negotiate with the players union to address that problem. Perhaps Tony Clark and the MLBPA would be willing to shrink rosters. Or perhaps they’d agree to limit the number of pitchers on a team roster. What, you’re laughing? No, I didn’t think the players would agree to that either. But this is what baseball is right now–dingers, strikeouts, early and often use of relief pitchers.
Yes, pitchers hold the ball. They always have. Batters step out on pitchers as they hold the ball. Each trying to gain a competitive advantage against another. But when I was a kid I watched a pitcher step off the mound and make a pick-off throw with Maury Wills on first at least half a dozen times. Pitchers used to have an answer for players stepping out of the box, but baseball doesn’t let pitchers throw at batters any more.
In five years baseball may look like something else. It didn’t evolve to this culture overnight, and there will be something new that changes the game in the future as every team seeks a competitive advantage. Maybe it will be players with prosthetic limbs, who knows?
But what’s the deal? Who is Manfred saving from the time it takes to play a baseball game? Is it people who love the game, its traditions, it’s slow and casual pace of play? Or is he trying to encourage football and soccer fans to watch the game until their training camps begin? Or perhaps NBA and NHL fans once their interminable playoffs end. If these folks don’t like baseball, its tradition that it is played at its own leisurely rate, tough. I wish baseball was everybody’s favorite sport to watch or listen to, but it’s not. This isn’t 1928 when America’s favorite sports were baseball, boxing and horse racing, in that order.
And if Manfred was serious about this he’d do something about the real drag on a baseball game, the length of commercial breaks. If you’ve been to a major league game in a major league park recently you’ve recognized the extraordinary time between innings. Is it longer than the time Edwin Diaz holds the ball when Jose Altuve is on first base? I think so. But no, commercials write everybody’s check as baseball heads toward $10 billion in annual revenue.
And how much time will we cut from the game? Are we shooting for five minutes? Ten minutes. A half hour, an hour? What other ridiculous short-cuts is Manfred willing to take to get there? We’ve already gotten rid of the intentional walk–I didn’t miss it too much, but what’s next? Ties in games after 12 innings? Home run derbies to decide a final score? That ought to attract the soccer fans.
These changes aren’t necessary and they aren’t popular. The players and their union oppose them. Fans of this game oppose them. Who are they intended for? Advertisers? Don’t we do enough for them already? If it is intended to attract the casual fans one finds seated in the King’s Court, or Seahawks and Sounders fans, stop. Baseball isn’t football, or soccer. It isn’t a beach party or video game. It’s something different, not better or worse than other sports, but of its own culture. These changes, for the pettiest of purposes, threaten that. And that’s a shame and the commissioner is wrong.