Since it’s too late to keep fans around here from having to watch every painful minute of the Orioles’ record 115 losses last season, I’ve got no patience for the latest effort by Major League Baseball to shorten the average time of game.
Most notably, MLB is now considering a three-batter minimum for pitchers, which would have the effect of reducing the number of times a manager strolls out to the mound in the late innings — or in the first inning if the silly new “opener” approach gains more traction.
This would roll back the clock to the halcyon days when mediocre left-handed pitchers could not make $2 million per year to pitch to one batter every two or three days. It would also remove a big chunk of managerial match-up strategy from the game, which causes unwanted interruptions for casual fans who are listening on the radio while they drive home after the seventh inning.
The 20-second pitch clock is on its way, which could have a subtle effect if it doesn’t end up in a Terminator techno-war against the replay clock. It’s already in place in the minor leagues to train young pitchers to work faster, so you’d think this problem would eventually solve itself at the major league level.
My favorite new idea is the speed-up rule for extra-inning games that is used at other levels and the World Baseball Classic. Following the 10th inning, each half-inning would begin with a runner on second base, which pretty much guarantees that there will be no more baseball at 3 a.m. This is only a benefit if you’re not an insomniac.
The plan would be initially to incorporate the free runner in the All-Star Game, which makes sense, and experiment with it during spring exhibition games, which doesn’t. Nobody plays more than 10 innings in spring games and the fans vacationing in Arizona and Florida are already two plates in at the Golden Corral buffet by then.
If you’re a traditionalist, be very afraid, since this rule is eventually coming to a major league ballpark near you.
Let me repeat myself. The fans don’t care whether the average time of game is 3:05 or 2:55. The obsession with shortening games is largely driven by the desire of the television networks to have more certainty when it comes to the window for their broadcasts.
Sports writers and ballpark employees want the games to be shorter because we get paid either way.
I’m still waiting for a fan to come up to me at a game and tell me his kid turned to him in the car on the way to the ballpark and said, “Gee dad, I sure hope this game gets over quick so I can get home 10 minutes earlier and get to bed.”
The thing that separates baseball from the other major sports is the possibility that a game can last 2 ½ hours or it can linger so long it becomes a W.P. Kinsella novel.
Major League Baseball also is involved with the players union in a discussion about a variety of rules changes that aren’t directly related to time of game, and the operative word is directly.
The union would like to see the designated hitter rule universalized, which makes sense from a standpoint of logic and consistency, but will run afoul of a large number of fans of both leagues who favor the current dichotomy.
And 15 more DHs will mean more offense and more pitching changes, which will make games longer. The same goes for the possibility of lowering the mound.
In addition, there are a bunch of off-the-field changes under consideration, from a single, earlier trade deadline each season to a possible 26-man roster to a big reduction in the ridiculous 40-man September roster limit. There’s even a proposal to change the draft rules to penalize teams for “tanking.”