Over the past few seasons, commissioner Rob Manfred has been slowly implementing “pace of play” rules. Rules include a time limit on pitchers warming up between innings or out of the bullpen, keeping one foot in the batter’s box at all times, and could potentially include a pitch clock on a day that will only come too soon. The timer and the batter’s box rule were implemented prior to the 2015 season, and MLB had the average time of its games reduced from 3:07 in 2014 to 3:00 in 2015. By comparison, with no pace of play rules in effect, the average game time in 2000 was 3:01. Rob Manfred is walking on incredibly treacherous ground right now, and is experimenting with ideas that would completely alter the game that we know. In addition to pitchers having a pitch clock in between pitches, the minor leagues now include a World Baseball Classic rule of starting each extra inning with a runner on second base. Keep in mind, the WBC uses this rule in an effort to conserve pitching, because this tournament happens right in the thick of spring training and most pitchers have not been built up to mid season form yet. MLB intends to use this rule in an effort to speed up the game, hoping that an increased pace of play will bring in more viewers, particularly from the younger generation.
Unless Manfred can magically make 6 home runs happen every game, his whole idea is going to completely bust. Chances are, if you think baseball is boring already, watching the exact same game happen at an average of 10 minutes less per game is not going to appeal to you in the slightest. He’s confusing a quicker game with a “more exciting game”, and in the process might be doing the opposite of what he hoped to do. In an era that has seen bat flips and emotional outbursts rise astronomically, it has become ever apparent that the “old-school” baseball thought process is alive and well. While not wrong in any way, this train of thought is typically associated with a more traditional baseball approach; wanting things to be done as they were in the past, when most of the older crowd were kids as well. Now, take the outrage already shown at bat flipping and try to imagine a complete overhaul of baseball rules in order to try to shave 5 minutes off a game. It might drive some fans out because of a “tainted” game, and it certainly won’t bring in any significant margin of new fans.
The game of baseball has seen a plethora of new playing styles since the 19th century, and as such, has adapted as needed. Long gone are the days of the starting pitcher who starts 48 games in a season. Long gone are the days of starting pitchers throwing 10 complete games in a season. Soon to be gone could be the days of the complete game itself, as the game has now transitioned to a focus on the bullpen. On an offensive standpoint, the game is now transitioning away from stolen bases and towards the homerun, and has been for a while. 2017 saw the most homeruns ever hit in a single season. Ever. Even more than at the height of the steroid era. So while pitching is potentially the best it has ever been because of how many fresh arms are thrown into a game on a nightly basis, hitters have had to adjust to be able to score runs while knowing they might not get too many hits in any given night. The amount of pitching changes made every single night are what contribute to the longer games, not the extra 15 seconds a guy takes to warm up between innings. Athletes playing at the highest level are adjusting to continue performing at the highest level, so why are we trying to prevent them from doing that?
Baseball isn’t meant to be dynamic like football, or high scoring like basketball. Baseball is poetry in motion, a game made exciting more by the intricacies than the scoring. The sequencing of pitches it takes to set up a strikeout. A soft ground ball to the right side to move a runner to third with 1 out. Lefty specialists. Intentional walks. The shift. All strategies, some new some old, that are part of what make baseball great. Will I ever understand why running the ball on first down helps to set up a passing play? Probably not. Will a football fan ever understand why a curveball helps set up a high fastball? Again, probably not. And that’s ok. Keep this beautiful game how it is, and stop trying to compare it to what it’s not.
Featured Photo: Commissioner Rob Manfred speaking at a press conference at the 2014 MLB FanFest | Photo by Arturo Pardavila III