PACE OF GAME IS FINE

Bill Brink, writing in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette of October 27 this year, about the experiment with new rules to speed up baseball games, quoted ex-Red Sox Closer Jonathan Papelbon as saying in 2010 ‘ Have you ever been to a movie and thought, man this movie is so good, I wish it would have never ended? That’s like a Red Sox-Yankees game. Why would you want it to end?’

The Pace of the Game Committee, under the direction of outgoing, (at last), Baseball Commissioner Bud Sellig, experimented during the just completed Arizona Fall League with six different ways to speed up the play of baseball games. I, like Papelbon, cannot imagine that fans would want their baseball experience to be made shorter. With the cost of tickets and incidentals at baseball games making it harder and harder for the average fan to afford to take in a game at the ballpark, why would the average fan want the game to be shorter?

Anyway, for whatever reason, the Arizona Fall League experimented with six different rules changes this year designed to make games faster. The Arizona Fall League is made up of six teams who play their games in stadiums used for spring training by major league teams. Each Major league team sends six of its top prospects, most of whom are Minor Leaguers from AA or AAA leagues. They play a 30 game fall season, providing an alternative to playing winter ball out of the country. It also makes it easier for the Major League teams to scout players.

Some of the rule changes experimented with involve the use of a time clock. Only the Salt Rivers Field was equipped with the time clocks so experiments involving the clocks were only conducted at that field. The Salt River complex, located in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, is one of the newest of the spring training facilities in the Phoenix area and is the spring home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies. Time clocks, similar to those used in football, were located in each dugout, behind home plate and in the outfield.

The first of the changes involved requiring the pitcher to begin his pitching motion within 20 seconds of getting the ball. The old rule required that the pitcher do so in 12 seconds but that was never enforced so now they decided to implement a SLOWER requirement to SPEED up the game, how’s that for logic. If the pitcher failed to do so, the penalty was to call a ball.

The time between innings was limited to 2 minutes and 30 seconds. The batter must be in the batter’s box between 2 minutes and 2 minutes 15 seconds after the previous inning ended or a strike was called. If the batter is in the box by the 2 minute 15 second mark, the pitcher must begin his windup by the 2 minute 30 second mark or a ball is called.

Similarly, in a pitching change, the new pitcher must throw the first pitch within 2 minutes and 30 seconds of entering the playing field or a ball is called.

Batters must have one foot in the batter’s box at all times during the at bat with certain exceptions. These exceptions include, after a foul ball, after a pitch forcing the batter out of the box, when a time out is requested and granted, after a wild pitch or past ball and some others.

Each team, when in the field, is allowed only 3 time out conferences per game. These time out conferences include players conferences with pitchers, managers or coaches conferences with pitchers and coaches conferences with batters. Conferences during pitching changes or in injury or emergency circumstances do not count toward the limit of 3. Umpires will not allow a fourth time out.

In intentional walk situations, no pitches are thrown. The Manager signals to the umpire by holding up four fingers that the batter is to be walked and the batter is allowed first base.

The first trial of the new rules and time clock was held on October 14 and continued for all games played at Salt River. Initial results indicate that, in games played with the time clocks at Salt River Fields, the average length of the game was shortened by 12 minutes. In 2013 all games in the league averaged 2 hours 52 minutes while the Salt River Fields games this year averaged 2 hours and 40 minutes.

One of the big attractions of baseball has always been that the basic game is easy to follow and understand. Bud Sellig and company apparently never heard of the KISS principle, Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Television commercials between innings during the playoffs and World Series this year generally took 2 minutes and 35 to 45 seconds. Will television contracts allow reducing the time available for those commercials? It’s hard enough to get to a concession stand and back without missing a lot of the game now, this will make it worse.

While all this experimenting with shortening the game was going on, they also experimented with expanding instant replay to all calls except balls and strikes. This should eliminate almost all arguments and make the game even more sterile.

With almost 74 million paid admissions again this year, baseball is not seeing a major loss in attendance. The 2014 figure is just 3/10 of 1 percent lower than 2013. The fans are obviously not disenchanted with the game as it is. As I have said here before, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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