Baseball is a unique sport. Just about every other sport has a clock that denotes when the game is over. A baseball game ending is determined by two things, 1), a team has more runs than the other, and 2), records at least 27 outs against the team with fewer runs. It doesn’t matter if it take 1 hour, 2 hours, 3 hours, or in the case of a Red Sox-Yankees playoff game potentially 5+ hours. Extra innings are no indication of the length of the game either. One of the best Red Sox games I saw in person was a 10 inning affair that lasted 2 ½ hours. Tim Wakefield pitched 10 innings and the Sox won on a Troy O’Leary Walk-Off in the 10th.
This morning, during my Saturday ritual of drinking coffee and surfing the net, I came across this article. The Deadspin article was based on a Buster Olney ESPN (Insider required so no link) about changes to the Atlantic League, a small independent league, where they are going to institute rules to attempt to speed up the game. The article lists the some of the changes, including:
- The defensive team will be limited to three “timeouts” per game, in which mound visits or on-field conferences take place with the current pitcher. Pitching changes will not be counted as timeouts, and in the case of extra innings, one additional timeout will be permitted at the start of the 10th inning and every three innings thereafter. Umpires will enforce a strict 45-second time limit on said timeouts. If the umpire’s warning is disregarded by the defensive team and play continues to be delayed, the umpire shall declare a “ball” for the batter at the plate. This will limit the number of times play is interrupted by on-field conferences.
- Pinch runners will be used for catchers as soon as the catchers reach base. This ensures that catchers are suited up quickly to start the next half-inning.
- When a manager or catcher on the defensive team indicates to the home plate umpire they wish to issue an intentional base on balls, the batter is to be automatically awarded first base without the need for the pitcher to deliver four balls.
- Umpires will be directed to enforce Rule 6.02 and Rule 8.04, related to hitters stepping out of the box and pitchers delivering the ball within 12 seconds when the bases are unoccupied.
The Deadspin article suggested that MLB use this as a test to determine if any will work for them. I don’t think that pinch running will go over in the Majors. They also have the same 12-second rule for pitches to throw when there isn’t anyone on base. I like the first one about the defensive team calling timeout during games. One of the things about other sports is they have limited timeouts they can use during the game. Football has three per half, basketball has 6 full per game and 1 20-second timeout per each half. Granted those sports use timeout to stop the play clock from expiring when they are attempting to score. In baseball that isn’t the case, but the number of visits from the catcher to talk to the pitcher or from infielders to the pitcher takes time away from the game. Coaches can visit the mound twice per inning, however if they visit a second time they have to change the pitcher.
I’d like to see this rule tried at the minor league level or in Spring Training next year, but with some modifications. I’d give each team 2 30-second timeouts to the catcher and 3 60-second timeouts to the coaching staff. Obviously injury timeouts or timeouts called by the umps wouldn’t count since those are official timeouts. On the coaches timeouts I wouldn’t put the restriction of removing the pitcher on the second timeout/visit of an inning. If coaches/managers want to visit a pitcher three times in an inning that would be their call. After the three timeouts the only time a coach can talk to their pitcher is when they are on the field is to remove them. This would add additional strategy to the game. Catchers/Pitcher conversations would have to occur only at certain times when it would do the most good, not 4-5 meetings during a single at bat when a guy is on second just to get the signs right. Those 2 timeouts would be for the entire game, they don’t get additional ones for each new pitcher.
One of the dings against baseball is the pace of the game is turning away new fans. While I don’t totally agree with that, it is difficult to get young fans to watch when games start at 7pm and take 3-4 hours. I don’t remember the last time my 10 year old son watched a full game at night. By reducing the length of the game time, you stand a chance to get new viewers to watch 6-7 innings instead of 4-5 innings they can do now before having to go to bed.