The Q & A are from my notes, so they should be considered paraphrased, not exact (other than the Mike Trout quote). If there’s no initials, then it’s a summary of both of their comments.
Q & A: Umps Care call today for monthly donors with Jim Reynolds and Fieldin Culbreth, both recently retired major league umpires. They have both been serving as umpire supervisors. JR has been in AZ supervising the AAA umpires—10 have been added this year, so he evaluated them for possible call-ups to the majors as fill-ins for vacation or emergencies.
Q: How’s it going with the pitch clock? What you do you guys think?
A. FC: I saw the impact in the minors last year. Games went from 3 hours to a 2:20-2:40 range (the higher end if the pitcher was having control problems and walking guys). One of the minor league pitchers put it “Pitch, shower, gone—in 3 hours.” JR: Best comment was from Mike Trout in the WBC, “WBC games are taking forever, can’t wait to get back to the pitch clock.”
Q. Are the umpires ready to end a game, even a WS game, on a pitch clock violation?
A. FC: Yes. Don’t want to, but we don’t like to end a game on a balk or called third strike, either. It’s not frequent, but we know it’s coming. Once it’s been a year, everyone will have internalized the rules and it won’t be an issue.
Q. What about the bases?
A. JR: there are some guys who are going to steal a bunch of bases and never get caught. There’s no real change for us—the positioning is the same.
Q. How do you feel about the new shift rules?
A. FC and JR: both like it. Once the analytics guys took over the positioning, instead of “hitting against the shift” or “bunting against the shift” everyone is swinging for the yellow line (the old three true outcomes).
Q. What have you heard from the teams about the new rules?
A. JR: they generally like it. The one caveat [on the pitch clock] is that minor league managers are concerned about reduced concession sales, since that’s a big part of their income. They acknowledge that perhaps they can make it up if families come to the park more often, but until there’s been a year or so of the new rules, they won’t know if they’ll really make up the loss of that 40 minutes of beer & hot dog sales. MLB owners aren’t concerned about that as concessions are less of a revenue stream for them.
Q. why weren’t the new rules used in the WBC?
A. not enough time to get everyone used to playing under them. They expect that in 2026 they will be using those rules. More on the WBC—both the players and MLB wanted big league umpires for the WBC. The umpires union asked who would be interested, and they chose from the ones who were interested. They expect that after the excitement of 2023 that more umpires, and more players, will be interested in 2026.
Q. How hard is it for a plate umpire to cover the extra tasks (pitch clock and disengagements)?
A. It is more tasks, and harder for the older umpires, but the AAA guys managed okay last year, so everyone will get there eventually (although it may take a month or two even with spring training). The umpires have a gadget that vibrates when the pitch clock hits zero—some wear it on their belt, some on their wrist. AAA guys like the gadget, but many of them actually manage from the visual pitch clock rather than the device.
Q. What about the runner in extra innings? That seems to be here to stay, but will it work its way into the playoffs?
A. We like it—and we know that 14-inning games (let alone 18 inning games) mess up a team’s bullpen for a week (so of course the teams like it). No indication yet that it’s going into the playoffs.
Q. Any other changes coming?
A. The ABS system is coming . . . eventually (2024? 2025? 2030?). It’s odd that everyone has the information about the pitch—except the guy who really needs the information! The AAA umpires who have trained on it like it just fine. Why hasn’t it been implemented at the major league level? Well, there’s discussion in the Commissioner’s Office about the entertainment value of players vs. umpires on B/S calls, so that’s actually a consideration.
Q. Any other thoughts?
A. If you’re coming to a baseball game, don’t be late. Those fans in LA who typically show up late are going to be showing up in the sixth inning.