So Major League Baseball and the Players Association have agreed to a few rules changes for the 2017 season. The impetus for many of the changes is (allegedly) a desire to speed up the game. Some of the other changes that MLB wants were blocked by the players’ union, but after this season the owners can implement them unilaterally, so I’m sure we’ll see the more dramatic aberrations…..uh, changes ….next year.
In 2017, the most noticeable difference will be on intentional walks. For the last hundred years or so, if a pitcher wanted to walk a hitter he had to throw four pitches out of the strike zone. Now the pitcher’s manager just has to “signal” the umpire, and the batter will be waved to first base.
Two other changes have to do with pitchers re-setting their pivot foot (which is really directed at one particular player with a quirky delivery) and positioning by base coaches. The last change prescribes time limits on managers and replay officials.
I’m something of a traditionalist when it comes to baseball. (Some people who call themselves my friends would use other terms. “Anal retentive”, “Dinosaur”, and “Mirthless Hater of Fun” being some of the more charitable ones.) But none of these wrinkles give me much heartburn. Yeah, there’s the occasional ESPN highlight where somebody wildly swings at a pitch meant to be a walk and gets a base hit, but it really doesn’t happen very often.
I do think it’d be more fun if they made the manager’s “signal” unique for each team. Like the Diamondbacks manager should have to come out and walk toward home, clap twice, then make a snake head with his thumb and fingers while saying “ssssssss”. The Giants could signal by having a ball boy walk around the on-deck circle on stilts. The Twins could have two interns with shirts attached at the back. You get the idea.
And speeding up the replays is OK if you accept that replays are a good thing to start with. I think officials should make a call and move on. Mistakes will be made; but there will also be missed signals, errors, imperfect groundskeeping, and drunken ushers. (Ooops. May have given away a trade secret with that last one.) The point is, if you’re looking for perfect competition with no randomness or human error involved, don’t count on a nap. You’re gonna be busy.
But the really egregious stuff will have to wait until 2018. For instance, in order to speed up extra inning games, MLB wants to start each half inning with a baserunner on second. Because nobody ever enjoys or talks about 18- or 19- inning games? Ask any fan to describe his or her most memorable game experience, and 75% of the time it will be a long, extra-inning contest. Baseball’s most distinguishing feature is the lack of a time limit. It takes as long as it takes. You can’t get a lead and run out the clock. Now I know how long-time soccer fans feel about penalty kick shootouts.
If MLB really wants to speed up games, here are are a couple of suggestions, humbly and faithfully submitted by your obedient servant:
- Stay in the Batter’s Box
It’s gotten to the point that a batter spends more time out of the box than in it during the at-bat. Pitcher delivers and batter takes. Batter immediately calls for time, steps out of the box, takes off helmet, smooths his hair back, replaces helmet. Loosens left batting glove strap and re-fastens it. Repeats with right hand. Taps left shoe with bat. Taps right shoe. Takes a deep breath and puts one foot into box. Stretches arms above head, then blinks rapidly. Steps back out to remove speck of dust from eye……STAY IN THE @#$%^& BOX, SON
Batters should have to stay in the box anytime they take a pitch unless there is a potential play at a base (attempted steal, wild pitch, etc.). Take a swing? OK, sure, step out and gather yourself. But on a pitch that’s just watched, there’s absolutely no justification for stepping out and wasting time.
2. Shorten commercial breaks
3. Disallow a mound visit when replacing pitchers
How often are games intentionally delayed by managers going to the mound when they’ve already decided to replace the pitcher? Everybody knows they’re just out there killing time to get a few more warm-up pitches for the reliever. If a manager visits the mound, the pitcher should have to face one more hitter or finish the at-bat in progress. Then if the manager wants to replace him, he can just wave a guy in from the bullpen. Maybe by doing that snake thing.
I understand why MLB is worried about demographics. According to ESPN, the average age of baseball fans is 53. NFL and NBA are 47 and 37, respectively. Kids used to handheld video games, instant communication on social media, and the BOOM-POW-BANG culture of ESPN Sportscenter have a hard time focusing on the gradual tension that slowly builds to the final denouement of a great baseball game. But instead of robbing the game of its charms, maybe they should try enforcing the rules they already have. Keep hitters in the box, don’t allow time-wasting on the mound, and call a rulebook strike zone. Maybe we can keep the old guys AND the kids happy.