Today’s article about MLB’s ill-advised obsession to speed up the pace of the game has prompted new thoughts that are spurred by readers…
Earlier today, MLB, and specifically its commissioner Rob Manfred, was taken to task in this space regarding its penchant to introduce new rules that are designed with the single purpose of speeding up the pace of a ballgame.
In the interests of this article’s “pace,” if you are not familiar with the various rule changes, please read the earlier story.
As always, when I post an article on baseball-related Facebook group pages, readers are often prompted to reply with their views. A dialog often ensues, shedding more light on the highlighted subject.
That’s what has and continues to happen even as I write this new piece. It aims to introduce content supplied by readers and related to the same subject, but on a different rule.
Stepping Out Of The Batter’s Box
This practice drives readers bonkers, but as is the case with the rule governing the time a pitcher has to deliver a pitch (Rule 804 – 12 seconds), the same is true here.
MLB rule 6.02 states that:
(a) The batter shall promptly take his position in the batter’s box (my emphasis) when it is his time to bat.
(b) The batter shall not leave his position in the batter’s box after the pitcher comes to a Set Position or starts his windup
As we know, however, the rule is rarely, if ever, enforced, even though the rule exists with the sole purpose of Manfred’s mantra to speed up the game’s pace.
Here’s the problem with the rule as I see it, though.
Baseball was founded under the umbrella of its pastoral, almost religious nature – a “gentleman’s” game.
By an large, I submit that umpires do not wish to see themselves as cops, the bad guys who are required to (equally) order Mike Trout and the newest rookie on the team to “Get back in the box or I’m gonna call a strike on you – and if you do it again I’m gonna charge you with two strikes”…
By enforcing the rule (or law) on the books, the problem is solved – right?
The trouble, of course, is that most laws, or in this case rules, are subject to the interpretation and discretion of the police officer, or in this case an umpire, and once we go there, the door is open for controversy and charges of bias by the good cop/umpire and the bad cop/umpire.
An example will illustrate.
Consider last night’s nailbiter between the Dodgers and Giants, a game enveloped with tension and nerves of steel by players and fans alike.
That game could have lasted five-and-a-half hours and I suggest no one would care.
Moreover, while it was bad enough, the game ended the way it did, can you imagine the uproar if the home plate umpire had charged Wilmer Flores with a strike for stepping out of the box between pitches (which he did)?
Or, if an umpire had called a ball on Max Scherzer for taking a stroll off the mound between pitches? Here’s the video.
Now, just as we have 1st-degree murder, 2nd-degree murder, and manslaughter, the natural thought might be to target the biggest abusers of the stay in the box rule.
Interestingly, a story appeared in the New Yorker highlighting just that in 2015, and guess what they found.
The biggest abusers were David Ortiz (24.2 seconds), Derek Jeter (24.5 seconds), and Manny Ramirez (26.0 seconds), who just happen to be three of the premier stars in the game at that time.
So, does this mean umpires give certain star players preferential treatment, or even that the league instructs umpires with a “hands-off” approach to these players?
Probably, but not so fast because the same study found that the biggest offender, since 2007, has been the journeyman first baseman Carlos Pena, with an average of 27.6 seconds between pitches—nearly six seconds higher than the league average.
Just for fun, here’s a video of Jeter’s entire at-bat, the one in which he attained his 3000th base bit. Note that this one at-bat took 3:38 on the clock, and observe Jeter between pitches…(Note: The video was taken by a fan, but the quality is good)
If It’s Not MLB Or The Umpires – Can It Be The Players
Earlier today, you may recall when I ended up with the same finding I do here – that the players need to police the game themselves.
In the same way that a leader on a team approaches a teammate for not running hard to first base, the same can be done here with a simple “C’mon man, I’m falling asleep in the dugout watching you at bat”.
It’s either that or we go the way of the robot umpire, equipped with an internal stopwatch, lasers to call balls and strikes, and an ultra-slow-motion camera to decide on trapped balls.
Does Anyone Want This Job?
The trouble is, though, that players don’t want to be cops either. Most only want to show up for work every day, give it their best during a game, and go home to their family, waiting for a notice the paycheck has been deposited in their bank account.
Thus, if neither the umpires nor the players are willing to play cop, the last resort is MLB.
Conveniently, there is a recent example of what MLB can do effectively if it chooses to.
When the players ran amok with the sticky stuff, and the umpires chose to be oblivious or ignorant, MLB (finally) stepped in to put a stop to the practice, and seemingly it worked.
MLB, for once, did it the smart way too, letting players know in advance that the rule on the books will be enforced on such and such date.
The same can be accomplished regarding the pitch-clock and stepping-out rules.
At first, a scattering of umpires and players were ruffled by the change, but eventually, they fell in line, and today we see pitchers walking off the mound after retiring the side with their glove and cap already in hand for inspection.
And that’s because, in the end, they’re all like the rest of us.
Tell me what I need to do to perform my job, and I’ll do it as long as you don’t hassle me after that – because I’m only here for a paycheck.
See, that was easy.