MLB Commissioner, Rob Manfred

MLB Editorial: “I don’t care if I ever get back” and Rob Manfred

The pitch clock is coming to major league baseball this season, even if commissioner Rob Manfred has to slam it down everyone’s throat. What’s next is for Manfred to change the words of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” to “I’m in charge of when you get back.” Pitiful, and here’s why.

Baseball, as we know, is the only major sport played without a clock. For decades, the game has been played without a clock ticking down forcing action on the field. Football, on the other hand, is rigidly controlled by the clock and it still takes three hours for a 1 PM game to end before the four o-clock game begins, with only sixty minutes of “action.”

The last two minutes of an NBA game can last 30 minutes and be interrupted endlessly by twenty-second, full one-minute, and scheduled TV timeouts. No one seems to care. Nevertheless, in the case of baseball, the commissioner cares, and that’s all that seems to matter, as this report quietly bubbled to the surface this week:

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports the MLB Players Association is expected to reject commissioner Rob Manfred’s latest pace-of-play proposal, paving the way for Major League Baseball to implement rule changes unilaterally.CBS Sports.com

There will be no compromise and Manfred will go back to his original proposals to institute a twenty-second pitch clock and limit the number of mound visits with a 30 second limit on catchers, coaches, or manager “conferences”. The latter has little to do with the governing clock and for the most part, should be welcomed by fans who are not stupid and can see through the stalling tactic many of these visits take on.

Twenty seconds doesn’t sound like a lot until you time it yourself. And it should be plenty of time for a major league pitcher to gather himself, get the sign, and make his pitch.

But that is missing the point, which is the damn clock itself and the artificial attempt to control the length of games. I have a point to make on this, but first, let’s look at some raw numbers compiled from the 2017 season:

The Toronto Blue Jays were the only team, that no matter who they played, got games in under 3 hours. They came close to the 3-hour mark against the Baltimore Orioles (averaged 2:59), but on average against other AL teams the Jays came in at an average of 2:46, the lowest average in all of MLB last year. In fairness, the Jays weren’t the only ones having games averaging under 3 hours a game. On the National League side, the Miami Marlins averaged 2:48 per 9 innings last season. If it hadn’t been for the Milwaukee Brewers where the two teams averaged 3:07, the Marlins would have matched the Jays for all home games under 3 hours.Forbes.com

Here’s the question I have, and I’ll frame it this way: What do six or seven minutes saved or spent say about our culture today? Is that time so precious to us we will forgo watching the sport of baseball or stop attending games so we can use those precious six minutes to make it through the McDonald’s Drive-Thru on the way home?

Or do we, when we decide on picking out a movie to watch, immediately check the running time of the film and pick one that is seven minutes shorter, making no reference to which movie we’d like to watch, or the quality of the movies in question?

Small changes like the ones Manfred will introduce a way of morphing into more significant changes once the door is opened. To carry this to the extreme, for instance, how long will it be before a hitter has ten seconds to run around the bases after hitting a home run. Or, to get even more ridiculous, why not limit the commercials between innings to one minute instead of the proposed 2:25? Oh, but that would be blasphemy, wouldn’t it? More on that in a second.

NBA players run at full speed up and down the court a hundred times a game. And they’re saying major league ballplayers can’t run at full speed on and off the field 18 times a game? Seriously? And how about the pitcher who needs to get “warmed up” after throwing 70 pitches in pre-game bullpen tosses and seventy more during the actual game? Does Tom Brady get to throw a warm-up pass on the field to Rob Gronkowski every time the Patriots get the ball?

If Rob Manfred indeed wants to speed up the game, these are just a few areas he should be looking into, and what’s gold is they can all be accomplished without a clock.

These, of course, are the lyrics of Jack Norwith’s “Take me out to the ballgame,” which long ago became a staple at ballparks across America during the seventh-inning stretch.

I, for one, don’t see a need for any change to speed up the time of a game, with a clock or otherwise, because I am one of those fans who doesn’t care if I ever get back. The lure of baseball is it is timeless, and in theory, a ballgame could last forever. And I don’t believe I’m melancholy when I say I like it that way.

Nevertheless, there are others who see the writing on the wall. Here are Cork Gaines and Mike Nudleman writing for AP with a telling quote from a respected major league outfielder, Curtis Granderson:

“Why is it so difficult that if we’re ready to play, meaning the pitcher and the hitter, can’t we just go live and put the commercial on the side? We do we have to wait? I saw it in a boxing match earlier this summer,” he said. “If you can just cut a minute off of each inning break, make it from three minutes to two minutes, you’ve already saved 18 minutes in the game.”Business Insider

Not all ballgames are exciting, and some are downright boring. And few fans, whether in attendance at the game or watching on TV, can be expected to stay tuned when their team is down 10-2 in the top of the eighth inning. And that has nothing to do with whether or not the game being played is fast-paced.

Still think baseball needs a clock? Try telling that to the 37,802 fans who went to Progressive Field on October 11 last year for the fifth and deciding game of the ALDS. They went home disappointed as the Yankees rallied for an upset win, but did any of those fans, or the millions viewing on TV, care one bit that compelling game took 3:38 to play?

More likely, the sad truth is Rob Manfred is playing a game of dodgeball. He knows where the target is when it comes to shortening games in the same way Granderson and others know where it is. But that kind of a change means money in the coffers of the owners he is pledged (and don’t ever forget this) to represent. They hired Rob Manfred, and they can fire Rob Manfred in the twitch of an eye.

There’s more here than meets the eye and this report only scratches the surface on both the immediate and long-range effects we are in store for when Rob Manfred finally gets what he wanted from the first day he was installed as commissioner by the owner.

Lord, help us. This game is too precious to mar.

 

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