What I Think About New Pace of Play Initiatives

BY TOMMY BOHNERT
CONTRIBUTING SPORTS WRITER

Baseball fan Tommy Bohnert, ’15, comments on MLB rule changes intended to speed up the game.


Major League Baseball and the players’ union on Feb. 20 announced significant rule changes aimed to increase the pace of play, including the requirement for a batter to keep one foot in the batter’s box at all times.  In addition, MLB will install clocks at each stadium to cut down time between inning breaks.  Batters and pitchers that are deemed to have violated these rules will be subject to fines up to $500, starting May 1.  Also, managers are now encouraged to signal replay challenges from the dugout instead of walking on the field.

Last year, the average time of nine-inning games was a record 3 hours, 2 minutes, up from 2 hours and 33 minutes in 1981.  Rob Manfred, in his first year as Commissioner of Baseball, wants to make the game more appealing to a generation that demands immediacy.  He says by implementing these new changes, there will not be as much down-time and in turn, the game will attract a larger, younger fan base.

When a pitcher enters the game for a pitching change, the timer will be activated — starting at 2 minutes, 25 seconds on local TV games, 2:45 on nationally televised games. The reliever will have that amount of time to reach the mound and throw his warm-up pitches. As with between-inning breaks, pitchers are supposed to throw their final warm-up pitch with 30 seconds left on the clock.  Pitchers who do not complete their traditional eight warm-up pitches before the 30-second mark will forfeit their remaining pitches. Exceptions include if the pitcher or hitter was on base in the previous half-inning.

Batters will be encouraged to get into the batter’s box with 20 seconds remaining on the timer. The pitcher is expected to begin his motion to deliver the pitch as soon as the batter gets into the batter’s box and becomes alert to the pitcher. Batters who do not enter the box prior to five seconds remaining on the timer and pitchers who do not begin the motion to deliver the pitch prior to zero seconds remaining will be deemed to have violated the break timing rules.  However, umpires are expected to be instructed not to go out of their way to indicate that a player has committed a violation. Instead, they would be told just to mark down the infraction on their card.  Umpires are also expected to show leeway with habitual and first time offenders.

I can completely understand the rationality behind these modifications and I will be the first to admit that the game of baseball can at times be boring.  Three hour games can make for a long night at the ballpark and an incentive to grab the remote for viewers at home.  These revisions seem like a viable answer to attract a wider target market in hopes of appealing to.  However, as a lifelong fan I have major objections to these alterations.

Baseball isn’t called “America’s Pastime” for no reason.  The facets of this beautiful game allow freedoms that can’t be found in any other professional sport, and any rule that restricts these liberties takes away from the true game of baseball.  There are no quarters or periods telling you when to stop playing; when that first pitch is thrown, anything is possible.   When I was younger I used to wish for games to go into extras, just so I could stay up past my bed time. Yes, those nine innings can be long and jaded, but they are a gateway to something more intangible.  Games present opportunities for families to go out and bond, they make it possible for a father to teach his son the ins and outs of the game, and they often serve as a business outing for companies.

MLB says it is attempting to appeal to a generation that wants things now, but that isn’t what the game of baseball represents.  Batters and hitters have their own unique way of playing the game and should be focusing on their performance, not worrying about these petty guidelines.  If a hitter wants to step out and adjust his gloves or do his superstitious pre-at-bat routine, he should be able to do so.  If a pitcher wants an extra 20 seconds to work out the kinks in his curveball, let the man be.

I think I would be more comfortable with these rules if it weren’t for the pettiness of the details, the wording and exceptions.   The precise time limit for pitchers sounds more like a schedule or itinerary for them and less like playing ball.  The fact that umpires are encouraged to give “leeway” to batters who are “habitual” offenders opens the rule for interpretation and leaves me with an uneasy feeling.  If you are going to make a change, then do so in a concrete, clear way.  Nevertheless, the sanctions of these violations are by far the most trivial of rules.  If an umpire calls a violation, the maximum fine is $500.  I’m sure that will really break the bank of the tens of millions these players are making.  Speaking of money, did I mention that MLB will make a donation to the union’s charitable foundation based on compliance with the new rules? Interesting.

The statement that managers are encouraged to challenge a play from the dugout doesn’t concern me. What does concern me, however, started with last year’s implementation of replay challenges and extended into an automatic ejection if the coach steps out of the dugout to argue.  Gone are the days of managers going face to face with an umpire and getting ejected, an element of baseball that fans used to enjoy, I may add.  If your goal is to cut back on game length, why give the option of a challenge that makes the game longer? I understand MLB wants to balance the evolution of the game with keeping it competitive and fair, but that is what umps are for.  The element of human error is part of the game of baseball.  In the future will it just be a computer calling balls and strikes?

I am interested to see how these new rules will affect Major League Baseball.  I have no doubt that the average game time will decrease, but at what expense?  The game of baseball has thrived over the years on the freedoms that make the game its own.  I do believe that these changes appeal to a younger generation and I applaud the effort of MLB to embark on new initiatives to increase fan bases.  Maybe these rules will be a landmark and a positive step in the evolution of the game, but I have my reservations.

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