New Rules + Same Old Commissioner = Big Mess For Baseball?
ALSO: BASEBALL SLICES 30 MINUTES OFF TYPICAL GAME TIME
Did you know…
The Oakland A’s flipped hard-hitting catcher William Contreras to Milwaukee (along with reliever Joel Payamps) in order to acquire center-field prospect Esteury Ruiz, whom the Brewers had acquired from the Padres a few months prior in the Josh Hader deal . . .
The Athletics have apparently given up on faded center-field prospect Cristian Pache, whom they obtained from Atlanta in the Matt Olson deal last March . . .
When future Hall of Famer Frank Robinson signed to become player-manager of the Cleveland Indians on Oct. 3, 1974, his total salary was $175,000 a year . . .
The 1993 Toronto Blue Jays were the first American League team to have the top three finishers in the league batting race [John Olerud hit .363, Paul Molitor .332, and Roberto Alomar .326] . . .
With former shortstop Fernando Tatis, Jr. moving to right field, Juan Soto will shift to left for the first time . . .
With Gavin Lux out for the year with a torn ACL, it’s a good thing the visionary Dodgers traded for former Marlins shortstop Miguel Rojas . . .
Believe it or not, the Pittsburgh Pirates spent $30.4 million on free agents at the same time their NL Central rival in Chicago spent $305.5 million to sign nine veteran players . . .
Sluggers most likely to benefit from short dimensions in their new home parks: Adam Duvall (Red Sox) and Cody Bellinger (Cubs).
Ask not for whom the clock tolls
It may yet toll at the worst of wrong moments
By Jeff Kallman
Quick—name the first player to earn an eleven-year, $350 million contract extension for opening spring training’s exhibition season with an 0-1 count on him without actually beginning a plate appearance.
When San Diego third baseman Manny Machado opened against Seattle’s Robbie Ray with that count before Ray even threw him a pitch, he ran afoul of the new pitch clock. He had to be in the batter’s box when the clock struck eight seconds. Oops.
Don’t spoil my mad fun by reminding me that of course he didn’t land that glandular extension for running afoul of the clock, never mind that he went 2-for-2 during his four innings’ play in the game. Don’t spoil Machado’s mad fun, either.
“I’m going to have to make a big adjustment,” the further-wealthy third baseman laughed after that game. “I might be 0-1 down a lot this year. It’s super fast. It’s definitely an adjustment period.” That may prove the understatement of the spring, if not the season.
As of Wednesday, according to the invaluable Jayson Stark, the average game time through that day was two hours and 39 minutes, as opposed to three hours and 60 seconds at the same point last spring. In 65 spring games through Wednesday, too, there were 113 pitch clock violations (85 on pitchers, 28 on hitters); or, 1.74 per game, about the same as Week One in the minor leagues’ regular season last year.
Machado may have been amused to open a game 0-1 on a pitch clock violation, but Braves middle infielder Cal Conley was anything but amused to end one on one.
Especially since the Braves scored three in the ninth and had the bases loaded when Conley, with a full count, ran afoul of the eight-second batter’s box deadline and was rung up for automatic strike three.
Especially, too, since Conley started toward first thinking he’d been handed an RBI walk because Red Sox pitcher Robert Kwiatkowski was called for the violation. That’s what Red Sox catcher Eli Marrero standing and looking at his wrist-band notes and thus deeking Conley can accomplish. Ending the game in a six-all tie.
“The umpire said I was looking down,” Conley told a reporter after that game. “I was looking down at the catcher as he was standing up. Not really sure if the pitcher was ready to go, the catcher definitely wasn’t. I was just trying to go with the rhythm of them, kind of wasn’t looking at the clock. Next time, should’ve called time in that situation, I guess, is what the umpire said. I guess learn from it and move on.”
He's not the only one who’ll have to learn from it and move on. But to where should we move? Don’t ask baseball’s attention-deficit commissioner. It doesn’t seem to have crossed his mind that the pitch clock was going to have issues out of, pardon the expression, the box.
Fifteen seconds with the bases empty and 25 seconds with men on base? Eight seconds for the batter to be in the box and ready? Who does Commissioner ADD think has to catch which train? If we must endure the pitch clock, what would have been terrible about 25 seconds with the bases empty, 30 seconds with men on base, and 18 seconds for the batter to be ready?
You guessed it—I’m going there again. Did Commissioner ADD stop to think that maybe the true reason for games going well over three hours had nothing to do with the play of the game and everything to do with broadcast dollars? Did anyone stop to tell him it might be a better idea to restrict those two-minute commercials to the beginning of each full inning and knock them the hell off during pitching changes and between half-innings?
Did anyone stop to tell him he might still get the same delicious dollars with just the choice spots before each full inning if he played his and his bosses’ hands properly? It’s been established long enough that Mr. Manfred’s true conception of the good of the game is making money for it. That would have been cake if anyone had applied brains.
(Don’t fool yourselves that the so-called Economic Reform Committee will be for the good of the game. It’s more likely to become a Committee to Horsewhip Owners Who Actually Spend on Their Teams and Want to Win. The latest collective bargaining agreement isn’t quite a full year old, and enough are up to no good already.)
Commissioner ADD insists his new rules indicate he’s trying nothing more and nothing less than to “produce a crisp and exciting game.” Forget that baseball’s flavour comes as much from the tensions in the pauses as from the cracks of the bat, the thwump! of pitches into catcher’s mitts, the brainstormings during jams.
Mets pitcher Max Scherzer seems to have eyes upon something a lot more than just crisp excitement, or is that exciting crispness. “Really, the power the pitcher has now—I can totally dictate pace," Max the Knife said last Sunday, after he surrendered a single run but struck five out in two innings against his old team from Washington.
The rule change of the hitter having only one timeout changes the complete dynamic of the hitter-and-pitcher dynamic. I love it. It’s a cat-and-mouse game. There’s rules, and I’ll operate within whatever the rules are. I can come set even before the hitter is really in the box. I can’t pitch until eight [seconds], but as soon as his eyes are up, I can go.
In other words—advantage, pitcher. Big advantage, pitcher. Big potential, possibly, that the bugs won’t really be wrung out before someone might get rung up for an eight-second violation with the potential winning run on third . . . in Game Seven of the World Series? Big potential, possibly, for another Year of the Pitcher?
You can hear Commissioner ADD now: Quit talking sense, dummy. I have a train to catch.
Jeff Kallman is an IBWAA Life Member who writes Throneberry Fields Forever. He has written for the Society for American Baseball Research, The Hardball Times, Sports-Central, and other publications. He has lived in Las Vegas since 2007, where he plays the guitar and writes music when not writing baseball. He remains a Mets fan since the day they were born.
It’s About Time: Baseball Does Something To Shorten Its Act
By Dan Schlossberg
If early exhibition games serve as an accurate barometer, Major League Baseball did the right thing to impose a roster of new rules designed to speed things up.
Outside of shortening commercials, which doesn’t seem likely because the game needs money from sponsors, the only alternative to agonizing long games was to change the rules.
Boy, did they ever!
A pitch clock forces pitchers to work more quickly or have automatic balls awarded to batters. At the same time, batters can’t step out as often and also need to keep an eye on the second-hand.
During the Boston-Atlanta game that led off the exhibition season for both clubs, rookie Cal Conley had a 3-2 count and bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning of a tie game in North Port, Florida.
When he violated the eight-second rule, however, the umpire called him out with an automatic “strike three” — ending the game in a 6-6 tie.
Spring training games and statistics don’t count for anything but they are a learning experience, especially this year.
Bases are bigger, shortening the distance between them by four-and-a-half inches; pick-off throws are limited; and infield shifts are entirely eliminated, with new rules requiring two infielders on each side of the second-base bag.
Left-handed hitters like Matt Olson, Freddie Freeman, and Daniel Vogelbach know that means their batting averages will rise, as liners and hard-hit grounders on the right side will now reach the outfield.
Base-stealers will be thrilled too; no wonder the Philadelphia Phillies, seeking to defend their NL pennant, doled out $300 million in an 11-year contract for speed merchant Trea Turner. He’s already the odds-on favorite to lead the National League in stolen bases.
Not so happy are people like Max Fried, who became the answer to a trivia question as the last National League pitcher to win a Silver Slugger.
The Atlanta lefty has a lightning-fast pickoff move that will be holstered, or at least hampered, by the new rule limiting throws to first base. Fried finished second in the voting for National League Cy Young Award last season.
Also down in the dumps is Boston closer Kenley Jansen, who works more slowly on the mound than any man in the majors. Not anymore, though — not if he wants to satisfy the sharp-eyed umpires anxious to wield their new authority.
Now that exhibition play has started, results of the new rules are showing their effectiveness. Almost all of the exhibition openers ran about two-and-a-half hours despite endless lineup and pitching changes.
That matches the results found in the minors when the pitch clock was unveiled for the first time in 2022. Games were shortened, on average, from three hours to two-and-a-half — a good thing for fans who start to yawn or, even worse, do “The Wave.”
On the other hand, fans, players, and ballclubs are all cheated by continuation of the free runner who starts every extra inning on second base. Called “the Manfred Man” by this column in a deliberate snub of the Baseball Commissioner who allowed it, the ghost-runner gimmick turns Major League Baseball into a Sunday afternoon beer league softball game. Without question, it is the most ridiculous rules change in the 150-year history of baseball. Most fans I asked strongly agreed.
Fans also said they wanted more day games — especially on weekends; no 4:00 starts, which wipes out dinner time and any potential evening entertainment; and no late starts for All-Star or World Series games.
It’s ridiculous that baseball’s so-called showcase games start so late that the youthful audience they’re trying to attract for the future can’t stay up to watch their conclusion.
There’s no reason baseball can’t really turn back the clock, play both All-Star and World Series games on weekend afternoons, and bring back weekend day games that start at 1:00. Oh, mea culpa: I forgot all about network television’s misguided fascination for football — three minutes of action in three hours of game.
Those moves are long overdue. In fact, it’s about time !!
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ writes baseball for forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, and many other outlets. His e.mail is email@example.com.
“I knew he had a good arm, I knew he was good, I knew he threw a lot of people out. But when I saw him throw here this week … it’s unbelievable.”
— Catcher-turned-coach Eddie Perez on new Braves backstop Sean Murphy
Branch Rickey, architect of the massive St. Louis Cardinals farm system, resigned as the team’s vice president on Oct. 29, 1942, three days before the Brooklyn Dodgers hired him as president . . .
Vida Blue was the first pitcher to win All-Star Games in both leagues . . .
Though never presumed to be a power-hitter, Wade Boggs was the first player to hit a home run for his 3,000 hit [on Aug. 7, 1999] . . .
Madison Bumgarner, winding down his career with the Arizona Diamondbacks, was a hero in 2014 when he pitched five scoreless innings in relief to give the San Francisco Giants a 3-2 win in Game 7 and a World Series crown over the Kansas City Royals. Two days earlier, he had thrown 117 pitches in a four-hit shutout during Game 5.
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HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [firstname.lastname@example.org] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [email@example.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [firstname.lastname@example.org] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.