Ump says speedier play is up to the players


Steve Palermo's suggestions to speed up major-league baseball games get the full backing of his former umpiring colleagues, but with some reservations.

"We could speed up the game, but only if we get cooperation," said Jim McKean, chief of the crew working this weekend's series between the Orioles and Angels. "It's completely up to them [the players]."

The committee studying the problem of prolonged games has decided to eliminate 30 seconds of dead time between each half-inning. It also has decreed that, once they've taken their position, hitters should be kept in the batter's box.

In each case, it will be up to the umpires to monitor the situation. "I don't know what they're going to give us to enforce this," McKean said before last night's game.

"There are some things that have to be considered. For instance, George Brett had a ritual he went through between every pitch. Are we going to make a potential Hall of Famer change his style in order to speed up the game?"

Palermo also has advocated raising the pitcher's mound, which the owners are likely to nix because it would take away offense, and calling the high strike. McKean does not believe the latter would have much, if any, effect.

"The high pitch is a mistake," he said. "Every pitcher is trying to keep the ball down. And you're only talking about six or eight pitches a game.

"I've been in the big leagues for 23 years and I've had the same strike zone the whole time. We were playing 2 1/2 -hour games with the same strike zone that we're using now for games that take 3 1/2 hours."

McKean said cutting the time between innings is a step in the right direction. "Thirty seconds doesn't sound like much, but that's 8 1/2 or nine minutes," he said.

And he has a few other suggestions.

"And why can't the [home team] starting pitcher be in the dugout ready to go when the lineup cards are exchanged? We could start every game at 7:35 [as advertised] instead of five minutes later."

Also, if the batter's actions are going to be curtailed, there is strong sentiment to keep the pitcher atop the mound, rather than letting him wander around. "You watch somebody like [Orioles right-hander] Kevin Brown and you can see the difference," said McKean.

A check of game times offers strong support in favor of the Brown approach. Before last night's game, the Orioles had played 39 games and the average length was 3 hours, 10 1/2 minutes. Of the eight games started by Brown, the longest was 3:02, and the average was 2:50, despite only two complete games.

"The bottom line is all [of the ideas] will work -- if they want them to work," said McKean. "There are a lot of things that can be done, and we can speed the game up. But everybody has to cooperate. If you don't get that, nothing will help."

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