The Pace of the Game: Is Baseball Too Slow?

brenemil
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The pace of baseball games has been a recent topic of discussion. Some say the games are too long, slow, and boring, and potential fans may be put off because of the way games are conducted. Others say the pace is fine, don’t change a thing. Another point of view suggests some changes, while making the case for leaving some procedures as they are.

Proposals for decreasing game times include looking at time limits on pitches, warm up pitches by relief pitchers entering the game, batter behavior at the plate, intentional walk rules, pitcher/catcher conferences, and other similar measures.

Oct. 14, 2014; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Detailed view of the pitch clock being tested during an Arizona Fall League game between the Surprise Saguaros against the Salt River Rafters at Salt River Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

A time clock to force pitchers to deliver in a strict time frame may sound like a good idea, however it can be detrimental to the pitcher. It is an unfair burden on a technician; a man that deals in perfection and near perfection. Forcing a hurler to pitch more quickly than he is used to can disrupt concentration, natural rhythm and adversely affect accuracy. Yes, some pitchers could adjust to an imposed quicker pace; the question is: why should they have to? Pitchers know how to do their jobs and they do it well; they’re out there to pitch a game, not to waste time. Why force them to alter the way they do their job, and infringe on their method of working, just to save a few minutes on game time?

Another complaint centers on relief pitchers entering the game and throwing 8 to 10 warm-up pitches. This may seem unnecessary to some, however, relievers need time to adjust to the mound. They may have thrown forty or more pitches in the bullpen, but the mound on the field is going to feel different. There is too much at stake to force a pitcher to start throwing to batters without first having a chance to feel out the mound. Reducing warm-ups negatively impacts pitcher effectiveness. Eight or ten warm-up pitches is a reasonable number, and doesn’t take much time to accomplish.

An obvious time waster is watching a batter step out after every pitch, or going through some ritual before the next pitch. Former big leaguer Nomar Garciaparra‘s elaborate and maddening routine before every pitch was a prime example of wasted time. Many hitters perform a similar routine, and I agree these behaviors should be limited or banned. They add nothing to the game except tedium for those watching.

The procedure for intentional walks can easily be changed to speed up play. Instead of requiring the pitcher to throw four intentional balls, the walk can simply be called and the batter sent to first base. On the other hand, even something as uninteresting as watching the pitcher throw those pitches can turn into excitement. With runners on base, a pitcher throwing wide of the plate can misjudge where the catcher will be and throw a wild pitch, resulting in runners advancing. It doesn’t happen often, however the anticipation of what might happen adds to the excitement of the game.

I don’t believe in regulating pitcher/catcher/coach mound conferences, as that would limit the ability of the players to do what is best in the situation. Sometimes, the pitcher and catcher need to discuss what they expect to do with a batter – something that cannot always be accomplished via hand signals. Such conferences are fairly rare, occurring probably fewer than five times per game.

It’s the same with the pitching coach visiting the mound. Game strategy depends on communication, and just as with the pitcher and catcher, hand signals cannot solve every problem. The team must be allowed the opportunity for the coach to speak with the pitcher, catcher, and infielders to ensure they understand what the manager wants them to do in a crucial situation.

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A realistic time saving consideration involves what happens when a televised game returns from a commercial break to live action, as outlined in this Jayson Stark ESPN article. The suggestion calls for teams to be ready to resume play immediately when the commercial is over. This is a reasonable change, and would cut game times by 10 to 15 minutes, as mentioned by Stark.

As stated, some of the proposed measures make good sense. Other suggestions infringe on players’ ability to perform as professionals doing their job in the manner that works best for them.

In my view, baseball is perfectly suited to allow fans to speculate and discuss the action on the field. I have enjoyed many conversations with family and friends while watching baseball; talks in which I had time to discuss what was happening. It’s part of the fun of baseball to have the time between pitches and plays to enjoy the atmosphere and debate the situation.

I like the pace of baseball. There is something special about sitting in the stands on a summer day or evening and not be in a hurry. The pace of summer is slower than other seasons, and baseball fits perfectly with the summer experience. Slow down, enjoy yourself – it’s summer! I’m fine with some suggested means of saving time, however for the most part, leave it alone.

Next: Houston and Arlington: A Tale of Two (Texas) Cities

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