Pace-of-Play Rules are not the Answer for MLB

Sweeping changes were made to improve Major League Baseball last winter. Hitters would no longer be able to step out of the box between pitches — provided they did not swing. Revolutionary, I know. Along with tightening up the length of time between innings, the rule changes were made with an eye on shortening the average duration of a baseball game.

As someone who has attended well over 100 games in my 26 years of life and spends countless hours watching Baltimore Orioles regular-season games every year, I can assure you that I have never sat with a stopwatch in hand, counting down the seconds of my life that are wasting away. I know that when I sit down to watch a baseball game or pass through the turnstiles, I will be investing roughly three hours of my day or night — same as a football or basketball game. Luckily, someone actually did time Major League Baseball games in 2015.

The grand rule changes managed to shave roughly six minutes from the average game, down to two hours and 56 minutes. Games were a few minutes shorter than the average in the first half — which makes sense because there is typically less offense in April — and were a few minutes longer in the second half. Coincidentally, the new rules regarding batters stepping out of the box after pitches were not enforced in April and May. There is a rumor going around that they were generally not enforced all year. Could have fooled me.

Now, with the 2016 season a little more than a month away, the league has a fresh batch of pace-of-play rules to test out. Pardon me, those 30-second mound visits have got me super stoked to go out and load up on tickets for the upcoming season.

Pauses, buys tickets.

Wow! That was exciting! Baseball will win back oh so many young fans who have checked out on the sport. Assuming five mound visits per game, the average game could be shortened by five minutes tops. Earth-shattering stuff, really.

Fans are not turning away from baseball because the games are three hours and two minutes any more than they are coming back because the games are two hours and 56 minutes. Most football games are longer, and come with just as much (if not more) dead time. The NFL has never been more popular. The final two minutes of any basketball game can seem interminable (especially when DeAndre Jordan and free throws are involved), but that’s not stopping 18-to-34 year olds from tuning in. It’s not the time of the game, it’s just the game itself and its old-fashioned culture.

In the NBA, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James have transcended athlete status. They are media personalities. We tune in to see what they are wearing postgame. The best of the NBA carry themselves like movie stars and are marketed as such.

This is where baseball truly lags behind the other sports it must compete with for eyeballs. Mike Trout is historically good, and he’s well-known by serious baseball fans across the country. The casual fan, however, could probably tell you very little about Mike Trout. Even the best baseball player in decades barely moves the needle nationwide. Bryce Harper is a whirling dervish on the field. He put up Mickey Mantle numbers last season. Instead of embracing him as the face of baseball, fans would prefer to pick apart his every move on the diamond. Here’s to following baseball “the right way.”

Baseball has very much become a sport divided up into 30 little provinces. Pittsburgh Pirates fans root for and love Andrew McCutchen, but how much do you know about him if you hail from a different city? I’d be willing to bet the answer is, not very much. In any other league, Marcus Stroman would be an absolute sensation. He’s young, cool, sharply dressed, can dance, and even spits a few bars here and there. In baseball, having that much personality will get you shot down with withering glares from the old guard.

Exciting, young stars are expected to be seen and not heard. Unfortunately, these are the types of players the younger generations want to see. Baseball has never had more young superstars than it does now. The game is in great hands for the next 20 years, but who will be watching? Things would be better if Sam Dyson, Paul Molitor, Brian McCann, and Bud Norris could come down off their high horses and let the game be fun. Baseball’s best moments come when raw, unbridled passion shows through. Embrace those moments.

If baseball is going to change anything to stay relevant with the younger generations, it need not start with shaving six minutes off the average game time. The product, as a whole, remains unchanged. There are still large breaks in the action whether or not David Ortiz gets to run through his little routine after every pitch. The real changes must come within the marketing department. Baseball is a fun game. Let it be fun. Embrace the present generation of stars instead of constantly reminding us how awesome the Hall of Famers of the 1950s were (granted, they were awesome). History is a great lens through which to view the game of baseball, but it becomes a crutch far too often. Let the stars of today’s game tell their stories.

As a fan, I appreciate the efforts made by baseball to improve (though I will have to hustle more on my between-inning beer and hot dog runs). I also appreciate a slightly shorter game. There are a lot of things I can do in six minutes.

Overall, it is not a bad thing to speed the game along with rule changes. Baseball does waste a lot of time over the course of a game, but those extra seconds spent by a relief pitcher warming up on the mound after he’s already spent 10 minutes warming up in the ‘pen are not the reason younger viewers are tuning out baseball. Baseball has stars to market and stories to tell that many young people would love to hear. That’s where the league should be focusing its attention.

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