Now that the dust has settled from the shots fired between MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and MLBPA executive director Tony Clark, it’s time for everyone to take a deep breath and have a grown up discussion about the pace of play issue. Hopefully Manfred’s ice cream will only be served in the correct color bowl from now on, and the baseball world can avoid another one of his tantrums.
Manfred called into Buster Olney’s Baseball Tonight podcast and said he placed a phone call to Clark to discuss the back and forth that had gone on through the media earlier this week. In his conversation with Olney, Manfred back peddled on his threat to unilaterally apply changes to the game, stating he wants to reach an agreement with the players because “changes are most effective when players are on board with it.” Prior to Manfred’s call, Olney said that the players should redirect the conversation so they’re the ones leading this discussion rather than responding with yes or no to items put on the table in front of them. I couldn’t possibly agree more. If the players don’t like the options they’re being given, it’s time they come up with some options of their own.
This leads to the obvious question of what, exactly, should be changed? Everyone involved with baseball had an opinion on this, and the New York Times wants to know what yours is. Manfred repeatedly says it’s the fans that are driving the need for these changes, so why not hear directly from them? They’ll even print the suggestions that they like. How awesome is that?! Manfred stated that all his research shows the two core issues with fans are a lack of action and dead time during games, so any changes made should be focused on those two areas.
I, of course, took full advantage of the request for ideas. My suggestions, after all, are the best (obvi.) I ignored the pace of action issue for two reasons. One, I don’t really have problem with it. Strikeouts are awesome, as long as it’s my pitcher getting that K. I’d rather see that than a slow grounder resulting in a routine 4-3 play getting the out at first. Just because some guys moved around the field doesn’t make that interesting. Second, I ignored it because I believe this issue will start to work itself out. Guys with a large number of strikeouts are starting to be viewed more negatively by teams, which will hurt the contracts they are able to sign.
Eventually, this will start to impact how those guys play the game. Do I swing big, maybe get a HR, and risk a strikeout? Or do I shorten up and just try to make contact? If you’re piling up those Ks, and that’s hurting your bank account, your mindset is going to start to change. Same with defensive shifts. Huge exaggerated shifts are being implemented more and more, much to the chagrin of managers, players, and some fans. Well, learn how to hit out of that shift. The defense does that because of the hitter’s tendencies. Guys who can spray the ball all over the field are becoming more valued by clubs, which, again, becomes a financial incentive when it comes time to sign a contract. Slow your roll, Manfred. The natural ebb and flow of the game will start to swing this in the other direction.
As for all the dead time, here are my ideas.
1. Why don’t we enforce the rules that already exist? Batters are supposed to stay in the box, and mound visits are limited to 30 sec. The umps and baseball need to actually, and consistently, enforce this. What’s the point of the rule if no one pays attention to it?
2. Relievers must face a minimum of two batters, unless their first one results in the third out. This will cut down on all the dead time every time a manager switches pitchers during an inning.
3. Along those lines (and I’m fully aware this will never happen because it will impact revenue), let’s cut down on the length of a commercial break when we bring in a reliever during an inning. The guy was just warming up in the bullpen – does he really need all those warmup pitches from the mound? He should be pretty close to ready once he steps onto the field.
4. While we’re discussing relievers, let’s limit the number of September call-ups, or at least the number of guys available in the bullpen from game to game. Nothing drags a game out like the use of 17 pitchers between both teams. Enough of that nonsense. If you want to see what all of your kids have, fine. You just can’t have all of them available to you during every game.
5. Something should be done about limiting mound visits. I feel like this entire discussion was extremely rushed, so I think Manfred needs to take a breath and allow the players to continue talking about it and give them a minute to work this out. I feel like this is an offseason conversation, not one to be had in five minutes as players are reporting to camp. Revisit this in November and come up with some kind of compromise for next season.
6. Replay. Let’s wildly fix the replay system. Don’t allow teams to review a play to decide if they want to challenge or not. Managers used to run out and argue based on what they saw live on the field in real time – a challenge should work the same way. Limit the time NY has to look at it. If it takes 20 minutes and 2037503248 views to make up your mind, you’re just guessing anyway, and the original call should stand. I understand the point is to get it right, but if it’s that close, everyone will have a different opinion of what “right” is.
Enough of this nonsense of calling a runner out when he loses contact with the bag for a fraction of a second during a slide. That is not what the spirit of replay is for. If the runner beats the tag or throw, and he doesn’t slide past the bag, he’s safe. Coming an inch off the bag while sliding over it, that’s only viewable on super slow-mo replay, should not cause the runner to be out. If we eliminate this as something that’s reviewable, we’ll speed up how long the review as a whole takes. Once a manager is out of challenges, that’s it. No sweet talking the crew chief and asking nicely for him to initiate the review. If you’re out of challenges, the only thing an umpire can review is if something is a HR or not.
7. Rather than timing inside of an at-bat (I’m very against the idea of a pitch clock), let’s structure the time between them. Stipulate how long a new batter has to get in the box and be ready. He’s coming from the on deck circle, where he had time to warm up. He shouldn’t need to take 4 swings outside of the batters box before digging in and getting ready to face the pitcher.
8. Throw the darn 4 pitches for an intentional walk. This doesn’t speed up the game, and sometimes pitchers screw it up, and that makes things exciting. Why would you eliminate the potential for excitement?
9. Unrelated to pace of play, but important nonetheless. Baseball is an industry set to make $10 billion this year. Invest some of that back into the players and figure out why Tommy John surgeries have skyrocketed, and what can be done to prevent them. Protect players and the kids that grow up dreaming about being major league pitchers one day.
My suggestions are fantastic, obviously, but I’m curious to know what y’all would do if you were making the rules. MLB Now last night discussed the idea of ear pieces like you see in football players, eliminating the use of signs and the potential for those signs to get crossed up. I’m not a fan of this because I think it will lead to obsessive real-time stat monitoring and constant dialogue in the players’ ears (how annoying would that be?!). It is an interesting idea, though. Anyone have anything off the wall like that? Send your stuff to the New York Times – I’d love for one of us (me) to be published.