Baseball’s Mortal Enemy: The Clock.

There’s an interesting artcle online this morning about how baseball needs to find ways to shorten the length of games. Writer Stan McNeal takes a crack at what he sees as baseball’s need to shorten games for the sake of maintaining fan interest and the cultivation of new fans among what I call the “get my attention within five seconds or lose me forever” generation that is now still in childhood. Check out “Memo to Selig’s special committee: Speed up the game” at for December 19, 2009.

Those of us older fans who grew up with the slower pace of baseball seem to have less trouble with the length of games, but the voice of younger fans seems more intent on speeding up the game, even if it tampers with some of the rules and traditions that have made the game so beautifully different from all others that are governed by the clock. In a very real way, we should read McNeal’s article for the sake of what it says about McNeal as a man of his generation. McNeal is willing to shorten the count in pitching to three balls gets you a walk, and is even willing to accept a foul ball with two strikes as an out.

I pause here to offer these responsible considerations: (1) Is baseball’s biggest enemy really the clock? Or is it people like McNeal and others who seems willing to radically change the game for the sake of bringing everything to a wrap inside two hours? Perhaps it’s older people like me who seem almost completely resistant to the idea of changing the fundamental game? I plead guilty to all charges of resistance. The least important item I take with me  to a game is my wristwatch. I don’t care how long I’m there once I enter the ballpark. It’s the game that holds my interest – and my baseball game plays out on a field of potential eternity. Heck! I’m even OK with the increased use of replay equpment for the sake of “getting it right” on close calls. That being said, I also recognize that the fans of tomorrow aren’t going to hang around for long unless baseball does find a way to narrow the gap that exists between actual games times and shrinking attention spans.

McNeal offers six suggestions for consideration. Here they are, along with my opinions of each:

(1) Forget About Instant Replay. McNeal thinks the problem of “getting it right” would be better served by adding two umpires down the line. To that I say, “Sell that idea to manager Ron Gardenshire of the Minnesota Twins.” I say increase the use of instant replay and damn the clock for the sake of greater accuracy.

(2) Reduce the time between pitches. We don’t need to change the rules. We simply need to have the umpires enforece  the rules that now exist for controlling the tempo of the game through some real control of pitcher/batter behavior between pitches.

(3) Change intentional walks. McNeal offers the old suggestion that intentional walks should occur by a hand motion of the batter to take first. He doesn’t understand that those four pitches the pitcher now must throw outside first are not so automatic and could lead to wild pich and a very different play outcome. I say leave this old idea where it belongs – in the deadhead pile.

(4) Speed up pitching changes. This one has to do with limiting managerial/coaching trips to the mound and putting a clock on how much time a reliever has to reach the mound from the time he’s called into the game. I don’t really like messing with this one because its so much a part of the mental game. If I had to choose, I could go with limiting the mound trips to one per inning and to mound changes from the dugout by hand signal, but I really don’t like this one, nor do I think it’s much of a timesaver. I oppose McNeal’s suggestion that a pitcher coming into the game who doesn’t reach the mound in a prescribed number of seconds shall be forced to start out with a 1 ball, no strikes count. What happens if he’s late for a 3-2 count on a batter with the bases loaded and the winning run on third? Would lateness in this instance result in a “delay-of-game-off” victory for the batting home team?

(5) Limit pickoff attempts. For-ged-a-bout-it!

(6) Somehow, someway, keep the runner at second base from peaking in. Un-b-floppin-leavable!!! McNeal really strains on this one, right down to spelling “peeking in” as though it were “peaking in”, or some kind of introversion of maximum effort. McNeal’s suggestions here are a combo of spurious, unenforceable, uninteresting, and un-baseball like suggestions in their character.

As you can see, my heart is not really engaged in the search for ways to speed up the game. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said there would be no “sacred cows” pr0tected from change by his committee to study the issue. To that, all I can say is, maybe we should allow baseball to simply live or die as the beautiful game it already is. If it’s too long an affair to stay engaging to future ADD-conditioned  fans, then they don’t deserve it, anyway. Let ’em twitter their lives away til kingdom come. Baseball is a game that requires more than two thumbs and a mind that’s numb to the beauty of slow-building melodrama.


3 Responses to “Baseball’s Mortal Enemy: The Clock.”

  1. James Anderson Says:

    My major pet peeve is the batter’s incessant wandering around home plate after stepping out of the batter’s box after a pitch.
    I can tolerate the hitter calling timeout at the plate because this is part of one of the psychological tools a batter has at his disposal to try to knock the pitcher off his rhythm or upsetting the pitchers timing.

    But, I’ve seen hitters literally step over home plate after a pitch has been thrown and then take a stroll around the umpire casually looking around as though he’s trying to spot his girlfriend in the seats before he slowly completes his circular tour of the homeplate area before stepping back into the batters box.

    In this instance, the umpire needs to tell the batter to immediately return to the batters box or be called out by the plate umpire.

  2. Wayne Williams Says:

    Bill: One of the things that caused delays is the time between the last out of the half inning and the first pitch of the next half inning. A couple of seasons ago, I timed every game I attended. The time between half innings ranged from two minutes and thirty seconds to three minutes and fifteen seconds. A reduction of one minute between half innings would reduce the total game time by almost 20 minutes a game. By the way, I am a Rockies season ticket holder and the games I timed were Rockies games. Management was not interested in my suggestion as it would cut down on TV advertisements. MLB and owners want the fans money but are not interested otherwise. Wayne Williams, P.O Box 627, Fraser, CO 80442.

  3. Serge Masse Says:

    It takes time to prepare and serve a good meal.If uou want something fast (and bland ) go to a fast food joint.
    Baseball is the same.If it is not broken don’t fix it.

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