MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is obsessed with the “slow” pace of baseball. His answer is to dream up new rules, but many belong in the dump.
I suppose MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred deserves credit for being innovative and committed to his beliefs. Still, change for the sake of change with no accountability regarding the effects of the changes is non-sensical and arrogant on his part.
It’s safe to say if a fan of baseball suffered an injury ten years ago that put him in a coma, and he woke up to find himself in box seats at an MLB game last August, he would be perplexed, saying, “What the hell” when he observed:
- A runner is trotting out to second base to begin the top of the tenth inning.
- A manager not removing his relief pitcher following two walks and a three-run home run.
- Umpires gathered by the dugout with headsets on, looking up in the sky and waiting for a call from MLB headquarters.
- There’s a section of the center-field scoreboard tracking the number of trips to the mound.
- He spots a batter receiving an intentional walk ambling to first base without ever stepping into the batter’s box.
MLB Is Missing The Crux Of The Matter
We’ll tackle a few of these individually, but first, there’s an overall point to be made.
If MLB intends to speed up the game with these and other rule changes, they are wildly misreading fans of baseball, and generally, the behavioral instincts of people.
Bear with me because this will illustrate my point. Please answer these questions yes or no:
- Would anyone feel the difference if an employer moved the end of an eight-hour shift from 4:00 pm to 3:54 pm?
- Would you notice the difference between a movie that lasted one hour and ninety minutes versus another one that lasted one hour and eight-four minutes?
Assuming you answered both questions “no,” MLB is betting we would answer yes, and therefore, we should be thanking the suits at MLB for shaving time off from ballgames.
As compiled by Baseball-Reference, the table below reflects the average time of MLB games over four seasons, 2020 excepted.
All the fuss and upheaval that has affected the game as it’s played on the field – for what? – a difference of seven minutes between 2018 and 2021?
MLB: Correct These Rule Change Mistakes
- Man On Second To Start Extra Inning Games
I doubt MLB realizes it but what they’ve accomplished with this rule illustrates the scarcity of major league hitters who possess situational hitting skills.
A runner on second with nobody out, and how often do we see a team unable to get a run across the plate? Go figure.
The real issue with this rule is that it skews the game under the guise of improving the game.
I liken the rule to the NBA moving the 3-point line in by ten feet for overtime games, or the ball being placed on the 50-yard line to begin overtime and for each series of downs afterward.
This rule is not about the integrity of baseball; it’s all about manufacturing a synthetic form of the game…
Interestingly, though, MLB removed the rule for all postseason games, indicating they hear the rumbling.
MLB’s Three Batter Rule For Relief Pitchers
This rule says a relief pitcher entering the game must face a minimum of three batters unless he retires the side before that.
Effectively, the rule removes a manager from the game, forcing him to strategize for not one batter but three.
While the rule does speed up the game, someone has to ask – at what cost? All strategy goes out the window, and to me, it’s like telling someone you can’t ask a person out for one date; you have to commit to three, regardless of how well or poorly the first date goes.
That’s my problem, though, for applying logic to the suits at MLB.
MLB And The Instant Review Play Fallacy
I’ll refrain from getting into the technology improvements that can and should be made. Still, I don’t understand why MLB can’t find a few dollars more from $10 billion in revenue to have replay teams present at each game, just like they employ an umpiring crew…
But the real problem with instant replay is not the inordinate amount of time it sometimes takes, but that many plays are not subject to review.
We saw a perfect example in the called third strike by the first base umpire that sent the San Francisco Giants home last night. No way did Wilmer Flores swing at that pitch – nevertheless, it’s game over, and good night. See for yourself…
As TV replays demonstrated, another non-reviewable play occurred the other night on a trapped ball that was incorrectly called an out. Alas, no appeal, the batter’s out.
Ditto the controversial call that ruled a ground-rule double on a ball that hit off the fielder, bouncing into the stands. Again, the rule did allow for an appeal and subsequent review.
Ironically, if plays such as these are added to those subject to review, games would last even longer, and that, my friends, is why MLB will not add them.
The Final MLB Irony
The final point to be made is how MLB refuses the enforce the one rule that would solve all of Manfred’s “problems.”
According to the MLB rule book, Rule 8.04 states: “When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball”.
Really? Then why are modern pitchers left to their own devices, resulting in this list of the worst offenders in 2018:
- Sonny Gray: 28.3 seconds
- Alex Cobb: 27.3 seconds
- Yu Darvish: 27.1 seconds
- Justin Verlander/Jason Hammel/Jeremy Hellickson: 26.9 seconds
Moreover, over a 10-year time frame, the average time between pitches went from 21.5 seconds in 2007 to 23.8 seconds in 2017.
The Players Need To Show Up
Another irony is that the Major League Players Association (MLBPA) must approve any rule change per their bargaining agreement with the owners.
“I know they want to speed things up, want to protect guys, but that’s just part of the game. I’ve been part of long games, and I don’t see much reason to change the things they’re changing. I think it’s been proven a lot of things they’ve changed haven’t had as much an impact as they thought.” (my emphasis)
Manfred Gets An A For Effort But An F For Content
I could, and I suppose you could as well, suggest any number of ways that MLB, with all of its power, can improve the game of baseball.
I’ll stop short of saying Rob Manfred lacks the brainpower to do it himself, so I’ll just say he is “misguided” with his attempts to speed up the game.
I’ll also stop short of agreeing with those who say – “Leave the damn game alone, will ya?” – because baseball does not exist in a vacuum, and as the world changes, baseball must adapt as well.
The introduction, for example, of the voluminous stats and sabermetrics that spit out of computers daily cannot be ignored, and nor can the impact of those developments not impact the game.
We need to be more careful and not act rashly when considering alterations to the game because there’s a funny thing about changes, and that is they’re easy to enact but challenging to disassemble or remove once they are in place.
This is the reason, for instance, why there isn’t a lawmaker in Washington willing to go near Social Security, even with a ten-foot pole.
I don’t see anyone associated with MLB having the wherewithal and desire to study the rules in place to amend or remove any of the rules discussed here.
Instead, our best bet is with the players and managers who, after all, are the ones who have to live by the rules.
However, given the expected complexities when owners and players sit down in December to negotiate a new bargaining agreement, I suggest that rule changes be handled as a sidebar, with a separate committee appointed with representatives from both sides.
After deliberation, the committee can make agreed-on recommendations to the negotiators, who would then (hopefully) rubber-stamp the report, and those rule changes would take effect for the 2022 season.
Or, is that too reasonable and invasive on your territory, Mr. Manfred?