I haven’t been on Twitter in nearly a week, so I genuinely don’t know: Is it me, or do the newly implemented MLB pace of game rules seem reasonable, okay, and not such a big deal? I mean, I imagine there is a certainly level of outrage, but in 2015 anything short of a puppy making a human-like face or mannerism generates some level of outrage.
In a sea of sports featuring constant movement to entertain the idle mind, baseball demands a bit more of its spectator (and it gives them a bit more back in return). But, by targeting parts of the game that aren’t (for the most part) the game, MLB is leaving more of the average fans attention span open for the game. So your bathroom break or beer run might be a bit rushed, but the game should still be the game.
If you’re unfamiliar with what the rule changes are, you can read them here. I thought I might just skip to what I like about them rather than rehashing what they are.
Strictly enforcing the commercial time between inning breaks seems like a great idea to me (and, shockingly, might affect MLB’s bottom line than anything to do with the game). Everyone still gets time between innings to do things on the field, pitchers can still throw some warm up pitches, but they’ll need to move it along a bit. Batters will need to make sure they are in place ready to go when everyone else is.
Best of all? Shorter between inning breaks means less bored fans, and less opportunity for bored fans to start a wave.
I think Batting Stance Guy might be the only guy who won’t like the new one foot in the batter’s box, and I imagine some batters will have trouble adjusting to not being able to re-adjust before every pitch. But when a guy needs to basically get undressed and redressed between every pitch, you can understand the temptation to pick up a book and try and sneak a page of your novel in.
Besides these are professionals and they’ll, presumably, all be treated equally. The good hitters will adjust to the adjustment, like they always have, and still hit baseballs. Besides, for all the talk of “letting go” and “swinging free” that players in slumps try to do, maybe a little less time to think will help.
This rule seems to be the hardest to police. Managers will be asked to make a challenge from the dugout, thus ending the “stalling until the video guy checks it out” tactic that slowed down replay. But managers will, presumably, still be able to come out and yell at umpires for other reasons. So if you come out and yell at an umpire about something, are you then not allowed to challenge that play? If a manager wants to stall, he’ll find a way. Still, it’s a good idea to try and curb one of the bigger complaints about replay from last year. If nothing else, I like the response of the leauge here.
Exceptions and Enforcement
The genius of the Constitution (to borrow from a movie) is that it makes no permanent rule other than its faith in the wisdom of ordinary people to govern themselves. The rules of baseball are far from the U.S. Constitution, but so too are these rules left to wisdom of those on the field to enforce.
As a lawyer, I’ve come to appreciate that flexibility in law making can be key, particularly when you don’t want draconian measures to be meted out for the pedantic. As such, the detailed list of exceptions for the conditions set forth by these rules are helpful in that they include a variety of common sense reasons why we, as fans, would be okay with a player setting a rule aside. Pitchers on base the previous inning? Take a few extra seconds. Fastball nearly took your head off? Go ahead and set out of the box for a second son.
(Oh, the beauty of rule making without the influence of special interests…)
Further, leaving this to the discretion of umpires as to when to actually impose a penalty (as opposed to simply motivating players to move it along) ought to help ensure that we are not bogged down by rules meant to expedite the game. There are no mandatory minimum sentences, so to speak- and while I think that Angel Hernandez and Joe West get a lot of things wrong, I think they can manage to get this right.
We don’t want a “shot clock” a la basketball, with a bunch of screaming fans counting down the seconds before a pitch must be thrown. There won’t be endless replay to see if the pitch got off in time, or if the tippy-toe of a batter’s foot was still “in bounds.” Spending 15 minutes arguing as to what “a catch” in baseball is doesn’t sound appealing, either. But I don’t think that will really happen.
Instant replay was met with much skepticism at the outset of last year, and to be fair it had a rough start at the beginning of the year. By the end of the season, though, the kinks had largely been worked out and fans had gotten complaining for the sake of complaining out of their system. It has, for the most part, worked itself into the game without (really) too much disruption. Put it this way: I wasn’t reading a lot of think pieces about the tragedy of instant replay last October.
So too, I think, will these rules work their way into baseball. I imagine that through May or June we may be writing about and talking about the times when the rule doesn’t quite work they way the league wants them too. That’s part of putting things into practice, of course. By by October I don’t think anyone will be writing about how team X was unfairly prejudiced by any of these rules, or that they some how corrupted the nature or spirit of the game.