The MLB introduced a number of new “Pace of Play” rules beginning in 2014 that were designed to speed up the game. This was presumably done to draw in newer fans who may have been deterred by how long, tedious and boring the game can seem. While I understand the whole “long and boring” argument, I believe that several of these rules increase pace at the expense of the spirit of the game.
Is baseball long? Yes. Can it be mind-numbingly boring? Absolutely. But these surface level assessments miss some of the beauty hidden within the game. Baseball is a sport of nuance and ritual. For some, it’s all about the little things. Everything from player walk-up songs, to silly superstitions, to lefty specialists, defensive shifts and obscure situational rules enhances the experience of the game. While I understand the intent of these new rules, some detract from these moments.
Perhaps the most well known of these is the Batter Box Rule. This dictates that batters must have one foot inside the batter’s box at all times, meaning we won’t have to endure someone like A-Rod take a practice swing, spit in the dirt, try to find someone he knows in the stands, adjust his shin guard and step back in after every pitch. I must admit that there were enough time consuming breaks amidst at bats to bother me. Still, this completely changes a hitter’s approach and eliminates the possibility of getting a pitcher out of his rhythm.
Shifting over to the mound, the MLB experimented with a 20-second pitch clock in AA and AAA last season to speed up pitchers work rates. Let’s just say someone like Steve Trachsel would not have fared well with these changes. It’s not simply the rules themselves, but the tone with which they are delivered that bothers me. In this grace period, it would perhaps be more prudent to kindly remind players and offer suggested time constraints rather than literally put the equivalent to a shot-clock up in the minor leagues.
Perhaps my least favorite part about all of this is the way the league and new Commissioner Rob Manfred are dealing with violations. Rules will be enforced with a warning and fine system, meaning players may have to begin paying tens of thousands of dollars for taking a few seconds too long to deliver the ball to the mound. I understand that a precedent needs to be set to make these rules work, but if I’m trying to locate my 95-mph split finger fastball, the last thing on my mind should be “oh crap, I have to get this pitch off in the next six seconds or I lose $1,000.” Baseball demands intense focus on all ends. These new rules, at least for now, serve to ever so subtly remove these athletes from the task at hand. There’s a reason pitchers take a certain amount of time to throw each pitch, just as there is for a batter to step out and recollect themselves.
That being said, I’m all for getting on with it. Baseball has always seemed a bit lazy by nature. Again, I feel this adds to the ambiance of the game. Another rule limits mound visits to 30 seconds. There’s no reason a 63-year-old pitching coach, someone who has been around this league for years, should have to sprint out to the mound, putting pressure on a situation that is meant to relieve tension.
While something like instant replay is a benefit to the game as it erases some of the human errors that could have given someone like Anibal Sanchez a no-hitter or decisively called a critical home run, Pace of Play rules add nothing nearly as substantial. The average game length decreased from 3:02 in 2014 to 2:56 in 2015. What did the MLB really gain with those six minutes? After several stagnant seasons late in the last decade, the league is beginning to blossom again with a crop of young stars and increased parity. There’s no need to tighten up facets of the game that have helped define it for so many years.