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The Sportsman of the Day
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Wednesday, May 29, 2013
By Bob Frantz
Baseball is in no hurry. It’s got all the time in the world, and it knows it.
There will be no obnoxious buzzer or gun shot that tells baseball when it’s done, no sir-ee. Baseball is over only when baseball players decide it is. Only when the last baseball play that needs to be made has been made.
Baseball will not tolerate some silly shot clock dictating its pace of play, as does basketball. And there will be no mad scramble to get the snap off before the play clock winds down, as the footballers do.
Baseball, you see, is different. Its complete indifference toward matters of time is part of its enduring charm.
It’s also part of its current problem.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, the average length of a nine-inning game in the 1970’s was 2 hours and 30 minutes. In the first decade of the current millennium, that number grew to an average of 2:57. Today, more than half of all games played exceed 3 hours.
It’s too long.
The independent Atlantic League, which was home to Indians starter Scott Kazmir last season, has volunteered to serve as baseball’s petri dish, conducting an experiment this season in speeding up the game.
“Duration and pace of games have become out of touch with our fan base…who are used to the faster pace of other professional sports,” said Atlantic League Executive Director Joe Klein, who once served as the Indians GM in the mid-1980’s. “We are not trying to change the game, only to help to keep it in tune with the times.”
Without changing anything fundamental to the game, it’s a noble goal.
To achieve it, the Atlantic League has instituted a policy this season that includes the addition of some new rules to speed up the game, but also to merely enforce existing ones.
The most obvious of the current rules to be enforced can be summed up in the words of former Indians radio announcer Mike Hegan, who often declared, “You want to speed up the game? Call a strike a strike.”
The ever-shrinking strike zone of MLB umpires has indeed helped slow the game to a crawl, creating longer at-bats featuring more pitches, more walks allowed, and with hitters able to wait for a ball right in their wheelhouse before it’s called a strike— more offense.
That, of course, was the grand plan going back to the “Chicks Dig The Long Ball” campaign.
The strike zone in MLB is defined as extending from the bottom of the kneecaps to the midpoint between a hitter’s shoulders and his uniform pants. That means a fastball across the plate at the belly-button, for example, is a strike. But it’s never called one. Virtually every pitch at the belt or higher is called a ball in today’s MLB.
Another existing rule to be enforced this season by the Atlantic League is the invisible 12-second pitch clock, which declares, “When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball.”
Failure to deliver the pitch within 12 seconds, after one warning, would result in a ball being called.
I think it’s brilliant. And it’s long overdue.
Of course, for a pitcher to get into a rhythm of delivering the ball on time, hitters would have to cooperate as well. With all due respect to Mike Hargrove, there should be no more rain delays while batters adjust everything from their shoelaces to their helmets to their batting gloves to their jockstraps in between pitches.
The Atlantic League accounts for this as well.
An existing rule states that hitters may not leave the batter’s box once he steps in, unless he swings at a pitch and must reset. Repeated violations would result in a strike call. This rule will be followed in 2013.
These are common sense approaches to increasing the pace of the game, as the rules are already on the books, just begging to be enforced. Other efforts to move the game along include limiting visits to the mound to settle a pitcher, and cutting down the number of warm-up pitches between innings. Game officials in the Atlantic will also be required to submit written reports if any game exceeds 2 hours and 45 minutes, explaining why the game took so long.
If I had my say, I’d take the warm-up pitch rule modification to a new level — eliminate warm-up pitches for relievers.
The idea that a relief pitcher needs seven or eight warm-up tosses from the game mound, after warming up in the bullpen for as long as he chooses, is ridiculous.
It’s like letting a field goal kicker come out to the field and take four or five practice kicks before attempting the game-winner with 2 seconds on the clock.
Or letting a basketball player shoot a few jumpers after he checks in at the scorer’s table, just to make sure he’s ready.
This isn’t to say baseball needs to sacrifice its charms in the interest of keeping up with the other major professional sports, but I like what the Atlantic League is trying to do to keep the game interesting for fans. Let’s hope Bud Selig and the MLB owners ask for a copy of the independent league’s findings after the season, and that they study it.