Alas – There’s A Reason Why Baseball Is Called Our National Pastime

There Is No Clock In Baseball

Come hell or high water; there will be a Twenty-Second Clock in Major League Baseball. The Commissioner says so, and the player’s union will cave. Sad…

You’re on a 20-second clock – Here’s the question you can ask in the next game of trivia you are playing in – What is the only team sport in the United States not governed by a clock? Easy for you, right? It’s baseball. Baseball – Our National Pastime.

“Pastime” is the operative word when it comes to introducing a clock to a sport that was born without one, having functioned just fine since its inception to the point where it is now a $10 billion industry. Here then are synonyms applied to the word “pastime”:

“An activity that someone regularly does for enjoyment rather than work; a hobby, leisure, recreation, amusement, relaxation, pleasure, entertainment, fun, distraction.”

Clocks play a stressful role in our lives. Whether it’s time to report for work, time to feed the baby, time to keep a doctor’s appointment we made two months ago, and so on.

Baseball is timeless. In theory, a game could last forever, even if “The Suits” want to put a man on second base to begin an extra-innings affair. Twenty-seconds on the clock please – wanna equate this to having sex? – draw your own conclusions. Casual fans of baseball already have.

Rob Manfred, the Commissioner of MLB, has instituted a plan for baseball to die slowly, with escalating penalties ranging from advisement that you violated the 20-second clock to an assessment of a called ball for every “violation”, and it’s happening  now in Spring Training games.

The locomotive has left the station and is picking up steam. Even though grounded major league players like Max Scherzer are trying to hold up a flag of reason:

“That was kind of weird, I mean, I just don’t agree with this pitch clock thing,” Scherzer said. “FiveThirtyEight wrote an article the other day talking about [how] the major pace of play problems is coming from the foul balls.”Jesse Dougherty, Washington Post
Jack Norworth, Composer, "Take Me Out To The Ballgame"
Jack Norworth, Composer, “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”

Scherzer is factually correct. More foul balls were hit last season than fair balls, and that’s a first as is the fact that there more strikeouts taking a minimum of three pitches than base hits. Nothing seems to matter though when we have a Commissioner who is dead set on what he calls speeding up the “pace of the game.”

Lost in the discussion, though, are the roots of baseball as our National Pastime. The game of leisure where Jack Norworth once wrote these words for his now traditional sing-a-long in ballparks across America – “I don’t care if I ever get back”… Let’s put a 20-second clock on the Take Me Out To The Ballgame…

Sadly, the 20-second clock is a dead issue and for what it’s worth the Commissioner will have his way. Why? It’s called greed. And the assurance the MLBPA (Major League Player’s Association) will fold to get that 26th man on the roster they’ve been searching for, adding 30 major league ballplayers to the payrolls of teams.

I don’t have a dog in this race, and unfortunately, neither do fans against the institution of a clock in baseball. It’s coming just as surely as the Designated Hitter is coming to the National League.

But at some point this season, I do look forward to Max Scherzer charging from the dugout with a bat in his hand when a National’s pitcher has been assessed a ball in a crucial situation in a game because he released a pitch two seconds later than the 20-second clock “rule” prescribes. And then, hopefully in full view of ESPN cameras, smashing the hell out of that clock behind home plate – or wherever they decide to place it.

This is no small step for baseball, nor is it a giant leap for mankind.

Written by Steve Contursi, Editor, Reflections On Baseball
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One comment

  1. Allow me to respectfully provide a counterpoint to this post. I will take them one at a time.

    Your view that Baseball as a pure “pastime” – the only sport without a clock will be in some way ruined with a 20 second pitch clock is, in my opinion an obfuscation of reality as to what makes baseball special. I agree with you that baseball is special because a team is technically never out of a game because with no clock, the game could go on for as long as a team can keep a rally going. However, this aspect of baseball WILL NOT CHANGE just because a pitcher has to get the ball out his hand within 20 seconds.

    Regarding your comment that baseball “having functioned just fine since inception” – I take issue with that too. It used to function just fine back in 1969 when the average baseball game took 2 hours and 22 minutes. Now it is over 3 hours and slowing virtually every year. I recall the first time that I noticed that something was no longer fine. It was in the mid 1970s when I recall watching Mike Hargrove come to the plate. Before every pitch he would step out of the batters box, adjust his helmet, adjust his batting gloves (especially the thumbs), pull each sleeve up a little, wipe each hand on his uniform pants, adjust the back of his belt, knock dirt from the cleats, flex his shoulders then back to the gloves, etc. It was a ritual that even Hargrove himself said took 19 seconds! What I couldn’t understand is that after every pitch, whether he swung or not he repeated this ritual. What I found even more ridiculous was that the home plate umpire was holding his palm up facing the pitchers mound indicating to the hurler that he was not allowed to throw his next pitch until Hargrove was ready. I remember thinking how wrong it was that the pitcher couldn’t just throw the ball if he was ready to pitch. Unfortunately, Hargrove was far from the last batter who employed a dilatory batting style. Then pitchers started taking more time as well. And now, a game that used to be played at a slow but manageable pace takes 30% longer to play than it used to. And yes that’s a problem. This only gets exacerbated in the post season where a playoff game never ends before midnight Eastern Standard Time. It is a huge reason why two generations of school kids have not taken to baseball the way their parents did. What kid has the patience to sit through it?

    I like your line about putting a 20 second clock on Take Me Out to The Ballgame. But you see, Take Me Out to The Ballgame is unfortunately the only thing about a baseball game that takes the same amount of time now as it used to! If only the same could be said for the actual contest!

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