The news came down this past week that the Major League Baseball Players Association rejected all but one initiative proposed by management that were aimed to speed up the pace of play of baseball games for the upcoming season. By turning a deaf ear to these proposals, the players have said that they don't care about games lasting well over three hours (four hours once you get to the post season). They don't care that lengthy games with loads of dead time will continue to turn off younger people, people who are needed to replace old guys like me when we, you know, die. They really just care only about themselves, but, hey, I guess that that is no real news flash.
Oh, one proposal did get approved: A pitcher will no longer be required to throw four wide ones when intentionally walking a batter. When such strategy is called for, the batter automatically be awarded first base. As John Mehno put it in his column today, that ought to cut off at least two, maybe three, minutes from the length of the season.
So, baseball fans will continue to be treated to the following:
- Josh Harrison stepping out of the batter's box, tapping his spikes with his bat, and taking two practice cuts after every pitch.
- Antonio Bastardo and Felipe Rivera taking 40 or so seconds to deliver every pitch. It's a fact. I timed these two guys at a late season game I attended last year.
- Just about every batter in MLB stepping out and adjusting his batting gloves after every pitch.
- Watch a manager take a slow walk to the mound, conferring with his infielders, catcher, and pitcher, wave in a left handed reliever, watching that reliever take a slow walk to the mound, take eight warm-up pitches (after he has been warming up for ten minutes in the bullpen; a relief pitcher should get one warm up pitch, two at the max, when he comes in just to get the feel of the mound), see that pitcher face the single left handed batter he was brought in to face, then watch that same manager do the same thing all over again when he removes that lefty relief specialist and brings in a right hander. That is a LOT of time expended to face one single batter in a game. It's why a lot of people bring books to the ball park, if they even come at all.
- And let's not even begin to talk about the time spent in replay reviews.
Before the Purists start screaming the usual "you can't put a clock on baseball" b.s., no one is saying that baseball should be anything less than a nine inning, twenty-seven out contest. And there is a distinct difference between the "length" of a baseball game, and the "pace" of a baseball game. Having a batter stay in the batter's box or having a pitcher deliver a pitch within a prescribed time limit is NOT putting clock on the game. A three hour game played at a brisk pace is a lot different from a three hour game spent watching Josh Harrison tap his cleats time and again, and watching Clint Hurdle and Joe Maddon doing the continual dance with pitching changes described above.
Of course, the biggest culprit for these lengthy games are the interminable commercial breaks, especially during national telecasts and post season games. That, however, is where the money comes from so it's not going to go away, so it behooves baseball and its players to figure out other ways to solve the problem. Management seems willing to try. The players, not so much.
Oh, and one other thing. Post-season games and the World Series, the showcase events and the most important games of the season, will continue to end well after midnight in vast swatches of the country, and, as a result, will not be seen by millions of people. If that is not a concern to baseball and its players, it should be.