One of the best things about baseball is that it has no clock. It’s what makes the game different from all other sports. Well, that, and the fact that it’s the only one where the defense has the ball. It’s a leisurely game. You’re given nine innings to win and if you’re tied at the end of that, you get free baseball until someone wins.
However, there’s a big difference between a leisurely two-hour game and those regularly slogging in at three-and-a-half hours for only nine innings of play. So Major League Baseball put in new clocks — the baseball equivalent of shot clocks, essentially — to quicken the pace by shortening the breaks between innings and pitching changes. The League also instituted regulations requiring hitters to keep a foot in the batter’s box, with notable exceptions (e.g. foul balls, wild pitches, time outs). The shot clocks are 2 minutes, 25 seconds for locally televised games and 2 minutes, 45 seconds for nationally televised games. Pitchers have to throw their last warm-ups before 30 seconds remain.
The rules were met with much criticism. Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt said the baseball clock “makes me cringe.” Michael Brendan Dougherty, editor of the baseball newsletter The Slurve wrote, “We hate the pitch clock.”
Russell Carleton said concerns about the pace of games were overblown and that potential fixes would kill everything good and right about the game. “If baseball really wanted to shorten games, it could take a few of the steps above. Eliminate social mound visits (or limit to one). Eliminate mid-inning pitching changes (or limit to one). Eliminate instant replay. Implement even a modest pitch clock (although good luck getting the players union to agree to that!) Allowing for the fact that some of the rule changes would spawn some workarounds, you might save 20 minutes off the average game. All it would cost you is the clock-less-ness of baseball, the idea of free substitution, and a small piece of the integrity of the game. In other words, baseball would become a different game and for not much benefit.”
But other than that, what do you think Mr. Carleton? Here at The Federalist, David Marcus told me that all good people should fight these changes, “Baseball doesn’t happen in the 15 seconds between the crack of the bat and the play at the plate any more than chess happens in the moment it takes to move a piece. It happens in between pitches. When we wonder if the infield should be at double play depth, or if a pitch out is in order, or if a .230 batter should be taking on a 3-1 pitch. Even our greatest novel on baseball ‘The Natural’ lands on the time before the final pitch, when Hobbs decides not to take the bribe, his striking out anyway is merely the culmination. The anguish between pitches is what makes baseball, and that novel, great. But it’s possible that as a Phillies fan I equate anguish and baseball a little too closely.”
I reminded him that baseball games were completed in about 2 hours during “The Natural” era. I’d happily go back to that length and enjoy every moment that took place between pitches.
So here we are at the beginning of the 2015 season and the Associated Press report after the teams had their opening days began:
NEW YORK — What clock?
The new digital timers tracking between-inning breaks and pitching changes did not appear to be noticed much on Monday, the first full day of Major League Baseball’s renewed effort to speed the pace of games.
Well I sure as heck noticed the clock.
And I loved it.
My St. Louis Cardinals opened up on Easter Sunday (beating the Cubs 3-0, whoo hoo!) but the game I attended was in Washington against the Mets. It was perfect weather, an eager crowd (despite the lack of offense from the Nats), and a fun time. But mostly what I noticed was the improved pace of the game. We wrapped everything up in 2 hours, 35 minutes. I mean, the game began at 4:08 and even with the very crowded commute home I was able to see my children before they went to bed. I can’t remember the last time that happened for a 4:00 game.
I wondered if it was just the Nats that saw a shortened game. Last year, the average MLB game was 3 hours, 9 minutes. The average game time has been steadily creeping up for years. For the first few days of this season, the average was 2 hours, 49 minutes. All the games came in under last year’s average with the exception of San Francisco and Arizona, clocking in at 3 hours, 18 minutes. I wondered if maybe all Opening Day games are a bit shorter. But last year the average was 3 hours, 2 minutes. If you include the two 10-inning games last year, that jumps to 3 hours, 7 minutes.
I hope this keeps up. While someone as personally resistant to change as myself would normally agree with Carleton, the clock really did keep everything paced at a pleasant clip. For one thing, it’s not a clock so much as an anti-clock. The clock only runs when the game is not going on. It’s a clock to get you back to the goodness of the game. And a bit more discipline from batters might be precisely what’s needed for some more swinging action. My mother, who raised me to be a baseball fan, has always told me that rules help people flourish. Baseball is a game of rules and working magic within its constraints adds to its beauty. Occasionally rules need to be changed to keep the game true to itself, whether that was lowering the pitcher’s mound in the 1960s or implementing the infield fly rule more than 100 years ago.
If the pace of the game remains as delightful as it’s been thus far this season, these rule changes should be embraced by everyone.