The baseball fan base has slowly declined over the past several years. After a Q&A I held, several points were brought up, all of which could potentially improve the game we know and love. That Q&A sparked the creation of this “Baseball Needs An Overhaul” series. In the first part, implementing a salary cap and floor was discussed. In the second part, youth programs and the DH position were the topics of focus.
This series of articles was meant to inspire thought, create discussion, and allow creative wheels to turn. How can we, the fans, work to improve America’s favorite pastime? What changes could be made to make our favorite game better? When will baseball ever return to its rightful place as the most popular sport in the United States?
In this installment, we will start by discussing one of the more recently popular topics in baseball changes: the pace of play, or pace of the game.
Baseball games are too long. Period. It’s plain and simple.
What bothers me the most, is watching a batter play with, or “adjust” his batting gloves. It seems like after every pitch, even if the batter doesn’t swing, he has to play with his gloves. He’ll step out of the batter’s box to do this, and it holds up the game. Just imagine, if the average batter spends thirty seconds adjusting his glove during each at bat, whether it took three pitches or 12 pitches, we’re talking a lot of time. There are three batters per half-inning (best case scenario), six total batters per inning. That would make for three minutes per inning of wasted time. Over nine innings, that’s almost 30 minutes that could be knocked off the total game time.
Another issue that delays the game is certain pitchers’ habits. They get the ball back from the catcher, circle the mound, touch the rosin bag, adjust their cap, wipe their brow, rub the ball and then finally get set for a motion. This happens almost as frequently as batter’s adjusting their gloves.
Why do I have to watch the pitcher throw all four balls in an intentional walk? Seriously? The opposing team knows what you are doing, the umpires know what you are doing, the batter himself knows what’s happening. Is it necessary to toss all four pitches, or even at all?
Meetings at the mound. I get that they are beneficial, but they happen too much. The NFL doesn’t let their coach walk out onto the field every time the quarterback gets into a tough situation. In football, you get three timeouts per half. You use them as you feel necessary. In baseball, a pitching coach can walk out to the mound any time he feels his pitcher is getting stressed or starting to slip. It’s usually a fairly quick gathering, as the umpires try to push them along after a brief period of time, but it can add up over time.
The pitching coach doesn’t even have to be the one to initiate these meetings on the hill, as the catcher can often have his own meeting with a pitcher. Plus, some of these meetings end up with the entire infield gathering with the pitcher. After the meeting, we all get to watch them casually stroll back to their positions. Again, the time is adding up.
Alright, enough complaining. Let’s talk about solutions.
As some of you may know, the Arizona Fall League (AFL) tested out some pace of play changes in 2014. These changes were implemented in an attempt to speed up the game. In these changes, they found some success in reducing the length of games. Here’s the rundown of these changes:
20-Second Pitch Clock – a pitcher has 20 seconds to throw a pitch. If he takes longer than 20 seconds, a “ball” is called. The batter has to stay in the box for the entire 20 seconds unless granted “time” by the umpire. If the batter steps out of the box during the countdown, a pitcher can make a pitch and receive a “strike” call. A clock was displayed behind home plate and in each dugout for reference.
Inning Break Clock – there was a maximum inning break of 2:30 allowed. Batters had to enter the box between 2:00 and 2:15. If they didn’t, the umpire would call an automatic “strike”. Once the batter was set, the pitcher had until the 2:30 mark to begin his windup. If the windup was not started by then, an automatic “ball” was called. The clock started when the new pitcher entered the playing area.
Three “Time Out” Limit – each team only got three times out conferences per game, even if it went to extras. These include players meeting with the pitcher, including the catcher, coach or manager conferences with the pitcher, and coach or manager conferences with a batter. Pitching changes, injuries, or other emergencies are not counted towards one of these three.
No Pitch Intentional Walk – if the pitching team wishes to intentionally walk a batter, a simple signal to the umpire of four fingers is sufficient. The batter is immediately awarded the intentional walk and proceeds to first, as a baserunner. NO pitches are thrown.
Batter’s Box Rule – batters have to keep one foot in the box at all times during the at-bat. The batter can leave the box, but not the dirt area surrounding the plate, if any of these exceptions occur: foul ball, foul tip, pitch forces batter out of the box, “time” is granted, wild pitch, and a few others.
(AFL pace of play rule changes found at www.mlb.com)
These changes lowered the average game time by 13 minutes, as compared to the 2013 season.
Thirteen minutes isn’t a dramatic change. But, it’s a start. Where is this in Major League Baseball? There are currently no steps being taken to reduce the length of a game. I feel that MLB should, at the very least, implement the above rules. In addition to the above changes, further options to decrease game times should be researched and considered.
I know these changes, if implemented, wouldn’t take place immediately, or all at once. But they could be implemented, one at a time, gradually over the course of the next ten or so years. Starting today, this upcoming season will begin a future of change. It will start the process of turning baseball’s current image around, in the minds and hearts of fans everywhere.
Why should we lower the average game length?
Well, just like part one and part two if this series discussed, Major League Baseball is on the decline. When a regular season NFL game produces higher ratings than a World Series game, we have to know that something is wrong. When we, as baseball fans, see our youth flocking to football and basketball more and more, we have to consider a change.
Every year, baseball misses out on gaining the attention of an entire generation of fans. Every year, baseball loses more and more of its current fanbase.
And more and more of the fan base is lost, when it comes to international drafting rules.
Yet another collective bargaining agreement (CBA) has expired and been re-established, and the MLBPA and MLB owners have come to conclude that an international draft was not vital to the forward progress of Major League Baseball. In my opinion, they couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, an international draft is vital to the future success of Major League Baseball. Not only is it vital to the success, but it is key to protecting young, Latin players.
CNN has published an article that outlines a small portion of what Latin players, focused heavily on Cubans in their article, go through to become baseball players in the United States. Honestly, it’s disgusting to see what they endure, and it saddens me as a writer and fan of the game of baseball.
To hear that players are kidnapped and smuggled to the U.S., forced to sign with agents that work for these cartels, and then held for ransom until they sign a Major League deal is truly scary. The CNN article speaks about a trial, happening in January of 2017. There are a few big-name players scheduled to appear as witnesses. I truly hope that the trial will garner the attention of the masses. Maybe then, the owners will realize how essential an international draft is.
By regulating the way international players arrive at Major League Baseball, the chances of criminal activity taking place is greatly reduced. There will be more eyes on the players, more eyes on the process. Not only will player safety be improved, but teams who cannot afford or refuse to spend, the money needed for posting fees, will have an equal shot at international talent.
Aside from player safety, another feature that needs to be added to the game is an electronic strike zone.
Now, before you all pull out the torches and pitchforks, at least listen to my side of reasoning here.
The human element to the game used to be something spectacular. But in today’s era, consistency is absolutely needed. Pitchers are constantly changing the game as we know. Fastballs are getting faster, the curve on curveballs are getting deeper and the guys are getting more precise. I think it’s a travesty to the game to have the pitching talent that we do, and their hard work is judged by eye, opinion and sometimes, just how the umpire is feeling that day.
With an electronic strike zone, Major League Baseball can help to ensure that there is an equal playing field for all parties involved. There is no “hitter friendly” or “pitcher friendly” umpires and there is no questionable human element. With one regulated, consistent form of determining balls and strikes, the quality of the game could only improve.
I will wrap this series up with a plea:
To Mr. Manfred, Commissioner of Major League Baseball,
As an extremely passionate fan of this game, for many years, I am here today to beg you. Please, Mr. Manfred, please work to fix the game of baseball. We, the fans, have begun the process of creative thought and productive debate, in order to improve the game we hold so dear to our hearts. We, the people whom you set out to entertain, are aware of a problem with Major League Baseball, and plead with you to work on bettering what is a lot of ours, lifelong love.
The people paying your bills.
If you would like to read the other parts in this “Baseball Needs An Overhaul” series, you can click the following links: