If you are even a casual fan of baseball, you have probably noticed that the games are getting longer. Rule 8.04 requires that, if the bases are empty, the pitcher has 12 seconds to throw a pitch. This rule is not typically enforced in a game, however. In 2014, the average game lasted three hours and two minutes, 27 minutes longer than 1984. Outgoing Commissioner Bud Selig believed wholeheartedly in the timelessness of the game, but the games were getting slow even for him. For incoming Commissioner Rob Manfred, despite the health of the game, he felt the need to address this gradual slowdown in the time of games. Consequently, to speed up the “pace of play” there is a growing movement to add play clocks to baseball at the major league level.
This past October, the Arizona Fall League, which is generally the best Winter League, experimented with the pitch clock this year, requiring the pitchers to throw a pitch within 20 seconds. This year, AA and AAA leagues are going to experiment with it. If a pitch isn’t delivered before the shot clock expires, then a ball is added to the count on the batter. Rules change if there are runners on base. Batters will also be limited as to how often they can step out of the batter’s box.
It would seem a better solution would be pitchers being able to throw strikes, and a wider strike zone overall, would be speed up the game. The high strike is coming back into vogue. Technically, the strike zone is knees to armpits, but umpires do not tend to call a strike above the belt. In the past few years umpires have started to call the higher strike. Pitches come in very fast of course and the umps are not robots, but some umps will call more strikes than others. As umpires become known to players, hitters and pitchers know what is likely to be called a strike by a particular home plate umpire. Pitchers will get more pitches called strikes, and batters might swing at more pitches. Umps are correct about 85 percent of the time. Some pitchers’ offerings move a great deal, umps aren’t always going to be right. Increased strikeouts in the game, show that batters are not afraid to swing, though.
Basketball had to introduce the shot clock essentially to save the professional game. Teams would get the lead late in the game, then pass the ball until the clock expired, which prompted the trailing team to foul. This is similar to what a team has to do now at the end of regulation if they are trailing by too wide a margin. In 1954, to limit the Fort Wayne Pistons dominating big man George Mikan of the Minneapolis Lakers, the Pistons went into a stall late in the game in which they took only 13 shots. A month later, a six overtime game occurred likely because there was only one shot in each overtime period.
Along the same lines, football needs a play clock, as they call it, as well. A team ahead in the fourth quarter could just sit on the ball if they had the lead and let the trailing team use up all their timeouts as they run out the clock. This makes the game seem like it’s moving faster than baseball, though there isn’t actually that much more action. Players are always moving though, which gives the impression that action is happening, which isn’t always the case in baseball.
Since these games are timed games, it begs the question. Is this really such a major problem that needs the game to be changed in this way? This writer is not against all changes in baseball. Considering some atrocious calls that were allowed to stand before the advent of replay, it was necessary to add it to baseball to get the calls right. There are parts of the game fans aren’t going to like. A manager making four pitching changes in an inning is aggravating. A pitcher slowing down in a key situation can be aggravating because we want to see what happens. Football has its concussions and hockey has its fighting, it is part of the respective games.
However, there is already a rule about the pace of play. Rule 8.04 is in place now. Limit the number of visits from the catcher to the pitcher. Allow intentional walks without having to throw the pitches. Limit the number of pitching changes. Limit batters stepping out of the box, which is disallowed by Rule 6.04. This will speed up the games.
But don’t allow a pitch clock in baseball.