Pace of Play Editorial

Several weeks ago we conducted a poll on Pace of Play.  Around the time that I ran the poll, there was a lot of sentiment both for and against changes that might address the perceived slow pace of play in major league games.

Baseball articles and discussions showed that current players, former players, and baseball personalities were in favor of leaving the game as is.  Any call for change was dismissed as lacking merit and love of the game.  Some characterized those in favor of change as trying to pander to millennials, who apparently are perceived as not having the mental acuity to appreciate a three-plus hour game of baseball.  Others point to ownership placing revenue over the game.

Those in favor of change claim to be concerned with the future of the game and worry that longer games put baseball in jeopardy of losing some fans, but more importantly not gaining new fans among younger viewers who are characterized as needing action to maintain their interest.  This group includes some from among the groups mentioned above as well as MLB corporate and by extension ownership.

I come down strongly in the group advocating change.  I am far from a millennial, but I do not care to invest 3-4 hours of my time watching a baseball game that does not include my “home” team.  Some will say I’m not a baseball fan then.  Well, I’m not.  I’m a Phillies fan.

But, I’m enough of a baseball fan to root for my Phillies from Clearwater.  I’m enough of a baseball fan to drag my deteriorating body to the Carpenter Complex in January and February to watch early reports workout prior to spring training,  I’m enough of a baseball fan to watch the Phillies spring training work outs, the minor league work outs, Grapefruit League games, and minor league games.  I’m enough of a fan to attend extended spring training and GCL games in the morning and afternoon and still go to Clearwater Threshers games at night.  I’m enough of a fan to attend Instructional League work outs and games.  I’m enough of a fan to share all my observations here.  And I’m enough of a fan to watch and cover men’s fast pitch baseball in November and just watch Phantasy Camp in January.  But, I do not enjoy watching a four-hour, nationally televised Yankees/Red Sox game.  Sue me.

One of the recurring themes I’ve heard in the sentiment against change is the preservation of the sanctity of the game, most often in response to doing the unthinkable and introducing a clock into the game.  You would think that the Rules of Baseball were inviolate and that the rules were never changed.

Well overlooking the obvious introduction of the designated hitter in 1973, to create more scoring and generate more interest in the game, there have been innumerable changes to baseball.  Here are some historical facts.

Baseball became a “thing” back in the mid-19th century.  The first set of rules was established by the Knickerbocker Club.  They made changes as follows –

  • Prior to 1857, a game ended when one side scored 21 aces (runs). It was changed to a nine inning contest with the team scoring the higher total aces as the winner.
  • 1858 – Called strikes are introduced into the game.
  • 1858 – A batter is out on a batted ball, fair or foul, if caught on the fly or after one bounce.
  • 1858 – The base runner is no longer required to touch each base in order.
  • 1863 – The pitcher’s box is declared to be 12 feet by 4 feet.
  • 1863 –  The pitcher is no longer allowed to take a step during his delivery and he has to pitch with both feet on the ground at the same time.
  • 1864 – Out on a fair bound is removed and the “fly catch” of fair balls is adopted.
  • 1864 –  Each base runner must touch each base in making the circuit.
  • 1867 – Pitcher’s box is now made into a 6 foot square. Pitcher is now permitted to move around inside this box.
  • 1867 – The batter is given the privilege of calling for a low or high pitch.
  • 1872 – Ball size and weight are regulated and remain the same to this date.

The National League took over regulating the rules of baseball (eventually turning this over to the Major League).

  • 1877 – Canvas bases 15 inches square were introduced.
  • 1877 – Home plate was placed in the angle formed by the intersection of the first and third base lines.
  • 1879 – The number of “called balls” became 9 and all balls were either strikes, balls or fouls.
  • 1880 – A base on balls was reduced to 8 “called balls.”
  • 1880 – The catcher had to catch the pitch on the fly in order to register an out on a third strike.
  • 1883 – The “foul bound catch” was abolished.
  • 1883 – The pitcher could deliver a ball from above his waist.
  • 1884 – All restrictions on the delivery of a pitcher were removed.
  • 1884 – Six “called balls” became a base on balls.
  • 1885 – One portion of the bat could be flat (one side).
  • 1887 – The pitcher’s box was reduced to 4 feet by 5 1/2 feet.
  • 1887 – Calling for high and low pitches was abolished.
  • 1887 – Five balls became a base on balls.
  • 1887 – Four “called strikes” were adopted for this season only.
  • 1887 –  The batter was awarded first base when hit by a pitch.
  • 1889 – Four balls became a base on balls.
  • 1893 – Pitching distance increased from 50 feet to 60 feet 6 inches.
  • 1893 – The pitching box was eliminated and a rubber slab 12 inches by 4 inches was substituted.
  • 1893- The pitcher was required to place his rear foot against the slab.
  • 1893 – The rule allowing a flat side to a bat was rescinded and the requirement that the bat be round and wholly of hard wood was substituted.
  • 1894 – Foul bunts were classified as strikes.
  • 1895 – Pitching slab was enlarged to 24 inches by 6 inches.
  • 1895 – Bats were permitted to be 2 3/4 inches in diameter and not to exceed 42 inches.
  • 1895 – Infield-fly rule was adopted.
  • 1895 – A held foul tip was classified as a strike.
  • 1901 – Catchers were compelled to remain continuously under the bat.
  • 1904 – Height of the mound was limited to 15 inches higher than the level of the baselines.
  • 1908 – Pitchers were prohibited from soiling a new ball.
  • 1920 – All freak deliveries, including the spitball, were outlawed.
  • 1925 – Pitcher was allowed to use a resin bag.
  • 1925 – The minimum home-run distance was set at 250 feet.
  • 1931 – Defensive interference was changed from an offense solely by a catcher to one by a fielder as well.
  • 1953 – Players were to remove their gloves from the field (in 1954) when batting and no equipment was to show on the field at any time.
  • 1959 – Regulations were set up for minimum boundaries for all new parks, 325-400-325 feet.
  • 1968 – The anti-spitball rule was rewritten and tightened up because of the wave of moistened pitches that floated plateward the prior season.
  • 1969 – The pitcher’s mound was dropped five inches.
  • 1969 – The strike zone was shrunken to the area from the armpits to the top of the batter’s knees.
  • 1971 – All major-league players were ordered to wear protective helmets.
  • 1973 – The rule on glove size and color was minutely outlined for standardization.
  • 1973 – The American League began using designated hitter for pitchers on an  experimental basis.
  • 2008 – MLB adds limited (home run calls, fair or foul) instant reply to be in effect for all games starting on Friday, August 29th.
  • 2016 – Slides on potential double plays will require that base runners must make a bona fide attempt to reach and remain on base.

The above rules were gleaned from the Baseball Almanac.  I don’t know why the rule governing plays at the play isn’t included.  There are many more rules that I didn’t list here.  But, you can see by some of these rules that the game of baseball was nothing like the product we now watch and enjoy.

I’m sure that when some of the above rules were introduced that baseball purists decried the rule changes as tarnishing the sanctity of the game.  But if change wasn’t embraced the game would look a lot different.

When I ran the poll, I expected to do a follow up poll on the types of changes to accelerate the game.  But as I watched early returns, I saw that most voters wanted to keep the game as it is.  That’s when I did the research on changes.  I had read a book titled “Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game” by John Thorn.  So, I knew that baseball went through an enormous amount of change to get to its current version.

By the end of the poll, sentiment had swung in favor of making changes to improve the pace of play.  But the vote was close, a difference of just 5 votes..

Pace of Play Poll 2017 (Poll Closed)

Pace is too slow, make changes. 50.8%  

Pace of play is fine, leave the game alone. 49.2% 

So, I decided not to run a poll among such a closely divided group.

Baseball has since come up with some rule changes.  One is the automatic intentional walk without throwing a pitch.  That should save about 30 seconds for each IBB.  Progress.

But in order to keep the discussion going, I’ll list the changes I would like to see implemented.  I know some are pretty radical.  I’m not looking for you to agree or point out why they are bad.  I’m just listing ways to improve the pace of play in a game that has become “unwatchable” for me.

  1. Replay – Get the call right! If you have to replace the umpires with computers like they have in tennis, then do it.  Mistakes may be part of the game, but they shouldn’t be.
  2. Since I’m advocating replacing umpires, put them in a central location to review plays in all games as they happen. If they see a close play, review it quickly without the need for a challenge like the Big Ten does (did?) in football.
  3. The strike zone – Strike zone issues become moot when you replace the umpires. The current strike zone if called correctly and consistently is fine. If/when a change is needed, it’s a software upgrade and you won’t have umpires sticking with their own strike zones.  An automated strike zone would prevent umpires from favoring established pitchers.  (I’m a Phillies fan and was distressed at the extra six inches of plate that Glavine and Maddux got from umpires).
  4. And, pitch framing would stop being a “thing”. Come on, baseball. The framing occurs AFTER the ball passes through or misses the strike zone. If umpires are fooled by framing, that’s just another reason to support an automated strike zone.
  5. Extra innings – Starting extra innings with a runner on second is just silly. It’s a heck of a way to lose a game in the WBC.  I understand trying it in rookie leagues to gather data.  But, extra innings don’t happen enough in the GCL to collect enough data to mean anything (IMO).
  6. Trips to the mound – The biggest change I’m in favor of to speed up the game is to limit the number of visits that a catcher (or any player or person for that matter) can make to the mound. I would say no one can ever go to the mound. NEVER. Pitching change? Call the bull pen and a new pitcher comes on with no coach or manager on the mound, throws one pitch to get the feel of the mound (what was he doing in the bullpen before the call? WARMING UP!). Then continue the game.
  7. Pitch clock – They used one in the Florida State League.  It works.  Pitchers CAN throw a pitch in a set amount of time.  I saw more strikes assessed to the batter for stalling than balls awarded because a pitcher couldn’t beat the clock.
  8. And, stop allowing the batter to leave the batter’s box.  That rule was already passed. Enforce it.  Big Papi has retired.  He’s not here to challenge the rule any more.
  9. The automatic intentional walk – This doesn’t save enough time to allow a trip to the kitchen.  Bring it back, overthrows DO happen.

I’m at least partially serious about all of the above.  I know baseball is totally against the introduction of a clock of any kind.  But, there is a rule in place that requires the pitcher to throw a pitch within a certain amount of time.  If it were enforced, discussion of a clock might have been avoided.  (Rule 5.07(c) formerly Rule 8.04:  When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call “Ball.”  The 12-second timing starts when the pitcher is in possession of the ball and the batter is in the box, alert to the pitcher. The timing stops when the pitcher releases the ball. The intent of this rule is to avoid unnecessary delays. The umpire shall insist that the catcher return the ball promptly to the pitcher, and that the pitcher take his position on the rubber promptly. Obvious delay by the pitcher should instantly be penalized by the umpire.)

And, labor relations make replacing even the worst umpires next to impossible.  So, replacing them all is really impossible.  But I’ve seen an umpire blow a perfect game, cost the Phillies a playoff game, cost the Cardinals a world series win, and elevate a Derek Jeter fly out into a home run because a home town fan interfered with the ball.  And the fact that baseball fans probably know which four plays I’m referring to indicates just how atrocious these calls were.

Time to get the calls right.  Time to speed up the pace of play.  Time to voice your opinions.




24 thoughts on “Pace of Play Editorial

  1. Wow! Very well done, Jim. You treated the entire subject fairly and honestly. Naturally, in the bureaucratic and capitalistic climate we live in, change comes slowly, painfully and often with unproductive half-measures. Buy it’s healthy to talk about it, nonetheless. Thanks for the obvious hours of thought, research and preparation. You challenged me to consider and reconsider what I think about the merits of the game’s need for change, or not, in some cases.

    Time? It’s the unnecessary delays in the game that I find annoying, not the slower pace of a well played game. It really boils down to common sense (but that’s a hard nut to crack if we’re pandering to non-or-casual baseball watchers who I don’t consider fans).

    Strike zone? I agree that technology can improve officiating without totally removing umpires.

    1. 8mark….comes down to money also…advertising money.
      There are up to 18 breaks in the game of 30/45 seconds or more. Perhaps between each half inning cut them out and have them run over the bottom portion of TV screen between a pitcher’s next pitch….. international soccer runs them that way where the clock is only stopped at the half.

      1. The US TV companies fought very hard against televised International Soccer for that reason. They would certainly fight this even more.

        I’m kind of on the fence about these changes. I hate that umps are so bad and inconsistent, but I can appreciate the framing skill. I also liked Jamie Moyer’s shtick for being slow to get the batter out of rhythm, but I wouldn’t mind the game finishing faster. I definitely prefer the automatic IBB.

        “I do not enjoy watching a four-hour, nationally televised Yankees/Red Sox game. Sue me.” That’s because you’re not a terrible person.

  2. This is pretty good – I’m on board with most of what you say.

    Here’s my view.

    Pitch Clock. Easy call. Do it. If you can’t throw a pitch in 15-20 seconds, that’s on you pitcher and a ball should be called (perhaps after an initial warning). Will probably shorten games by 10 minutes just by itself.

    Instant Replay. There’s no going back now, but it is good to get the call right and we see so many instances where the umpire has been wrong. I like the current challenge rules (not too many), but I think on home run calls and the last three innings of a game, the umpires should be able to initiate the review themselves. All of that being said, MLB needs to get this down to a science where it basically never takes more than a minute for a challenge for call to be confirmed or overturned.

    Mound visits. I am beginning to like your idea. The exception should be injuries. If you don’t eliminate them, then allow only one mound visit per inning (including player visits unaccompanied by a coach).

    Stepping out of the batters’ box. Again, short of an injury or a physical issue, it should be prohibited. However, you will then need a rule indicating that, after a pitch, the batter should have a reasonable amount of time to set himself (5 seconds?).

    Automatic Intentional Walk. Among the most stupid ideas ever suggested. Barely saves time given how few intentional walks occur and how quickly the 4 pitches can be made. Hell no.

    Starting men at second base in extra innings. Hell, hell, no. To me, the rule changes need to be made in a way that does not change the fundamental essence of baseball. The above rule changes wouldn’t really change anything about the game of baseball itself, but this one would in a serious way. Furthermore, who gets bored by extra innings? I don’t, and I don’t think most other fans do either. This is one case where a longer game is perfectly fine.

    Automated strike zone. This isn’t a time-saving change, it’s supposed to be an umpiring accuracy change (just as the replay rule helps ensure umpire accuracy). On the one hand, you want to make sure balls and strikes are called accurately and I’m sure, these days, a computer can do that better than a human. On the other hand, umpires “punching” people out and calling balls and strikes, often in a very animated way, is central to the game. In fact, one could argue, quite credibly, that a human umpire calling balls and strikes is at the very heart of baseball itself and the absence of that function would change the feel and appeal of the game, as flawed as it may be. Let me put it this way, picture the difference between an umpire calling a batter out to end the last game of the World Series (“Steeerike Threeeee!”) and a buzzer signaling that a strike had been called. One ending is so much more meaningful and dramatic than the other. I suppose, if you wanted to keep the excitement element, the computer could relay the call immediately to the umpire, who could still make the call – but I think something would be lost in translation.

    Limits on Pitcher Changes. The last 3-4 innings of major league baseball games have become interminable and boring as all heck in most instances. During the playoffs, I don’t mind if there’s a pitching change for every batter, but on a Wednesday night in late June, it’s fairly brutal. I think, absent an injury or the reaching of a pitch limit (25 pitches?), limit the number of pitchers per inning to 2 (basically whoever started the inning and one change). This will speed up the game enormously (perhaps as much as another 10 or 15 minutes) and introduce a whole new layer of strategy. It will also increase scoring, which is good.

    I think a realistic goal should be to make a baseball game last close to around 2 hours and 30 minutes. If you institute the changes above, I think most games would be right around that mark.

  3. 8Mark sums it up best with this

    “Time? It’s the unnecessary delays in the game that I find annoying, not the slower pace of a well played game. It really boils down to common sense (but that’s a hard nut to crack if we’re pandering to non-or-casual baseball watchers who I don’t consider fans).”

    My opinion is the time problem is perceived and not real. If there is a time problem its start times for the World Series

  4. The main beef for me (and it becomes more apparent in the playoffs) is the number of catcher/coach meetings at the mound. They are killer. Limit it to 1 each per inning. I remember when the Phillies played the Yankees in the World Series, Posada would be meeting at the mound after every 2 pitches. It was crazy.

  5. Love this editorial – thank you Jim for putting together such a great piece. I think the most simple way to speed up the pace of play is to make 3 balls a base on balls.

    And to speed it up even more, make 2 strikes an out. These two simple changes should speed up the game and save 20-25% of the time it currently takes to complete a game.

    1. As I said many times, speed up game by getting batter in box ASAP. I would go further and eliminate all the body armour they wear that requires constant adjustment. Umps should stop giving batters time out. Pitcher should be able to quick pitch or hold ball for the allowed time. Also stop with allowing pitcher to request a new ball. Bring back Jim Kaat.

  6. Okay, if this is a time issue, the biggest culprits are:

    1. Time Between Pitches – this can be reduced by instituting a pitch clock and reducing or eliminating the right of batters to step out of the batters’ box.

    2. Mound conferences – this can either be eliminated or reduced. Limit the visits to one per pitcher per inning or eliminate them altogether.

    3. Pitching changes – no more than two pitchers should be permitted to pitch in an inning (subject to injuries and, perhaps, a minimum pitch limit of say, 25 pitches).

    The intentional walk suggestion is silly and the extra inning rules is horrible because it would fundamentally change the rules of the game.

    1. I think limiting pitching changes to no more than two pitchers in an inning could have the opposite effect on timing. Sometimes a reliever just can’t get anyone out. That’s baseball.

      1. Pitching changes take forever – typically like 5-7 minutes from the time they have the mound conference to the time the batter steps up. If you eliminate mound visits and institute a pitch clock it’s highly unlikely limiting pitching changes will take a longer time. And by the way, one of the side benefits to limiting pitching changes is increasing offense, which baseball now desperately needs.

  7. It’s simple. Put a clock BETWEEN INNINGS. 90 seconds. You want enough warm up pitches, get out to the mound quickly, just like in high school.

    They can still run 3 commercials but when they come back from commercial it’s batter up, not another 30 seconds of warm ups.

    As far as trips to the mound….they are fine if there is a purpose, but a lot of the time, the purpose is to let a guy warm up. So I kind of like looking into trip limits. This is a little out there, but maybe beginning with the 6th inning, each team must have a guy up throwing and ready to go. Not throwing at 100% but at least stretching and tossing at about 50%. Then if a pitcher gets into trouble, it won’t take as long to get ready because they are already loose. Even if he doesn’t get used, that isn’t going to tire him out.

    Or…. If there is one trip to the mound that doesn’t result in a pitching change (coach or catcher), if there is a pitching change later that inning, the new pitcher that inning gets only 3 warm up pitches. (so he better be using that trip time to get loose) If there is a pitching change on the first trip to the mound, the new pitcher gets a full 60 seconds. This should reduce unnecessary trips and put it on the receivers to start getting lose earlier and be ready earlier.

  8. Jim, you have outdone yourself here, truly amazing research. What ever “they” are paying you, demand an increase. Your walk through some significant rules changes was wonderful. Can anyone imagine what debate and discussion led to these changes even being discussed to begin with? My favorite – 1901 – “the catcher is compelled to remain under the bat at all times.”..”compelled?” Love it!!!
    I agree with you and many that the advent of relievers is the single biggest thing hurting the pace of the game, especially once the playoffs begin where this year past, we were treated with managers constantly pulling TOR starters after 3 2/3 innings to “preserve” them in case there was a “game 11”. Seriously? So your suggestion 6 should be implemented immediately, before immediately if possible. Once I am king of the world, you can bank on it. Thank you Jim for the excellent writing here…:)

  9. I didn’t mind watching a slower game when I was 1) single and without children and 2) living with like-minded baseball fans in my 20s. And my 20s coincided with the Red Sox-Yankees marathons (not that I’m a fan of either team).

    We shouldn’t tailor baseball towards the casual fan, but I really feel speeding up the game enhances the fan experience as long as we’re only impacting “dead ball” delays. I’d like to see a pitcher clock. From all reports in the minors, it’s subtle and it makes the game much more fluid. I also like keeping hitters in the box, for the same reason.

    Just limit catcher/coach visits and put a clock on the pitchers at 20 seconds. That and speeding up the between innings breaks to 2-2.5 minutes would shorten the game substantially.

    Bottom line is let’s get the average game-time down to 2 hours and 30 minutes without effecting the in-game stuff. I think it’s a pretty easy benchmark if MLB is serious about cutting commercial breaks (which also increases the values of said commercial time).

    1. Ever notice…..for me I will sit and watch a game and before you know it is the 6th inning…..after only 90 minutes.
      Now I am thinking…great, a two hour fifteen minute game max…..get home early……wrong!
      The last three innings are a marathon.

  10. Well done all around. However, I need help: what’s the reference for an umpire costing the Phillies a playoff game? As a Phillies fan, I feel like I should know this, but I’m not sure. Personally, I thought Ryan Howard should have gotten a walk in the last at-bat against the Giants in 2010, but I don’t think that’s what you are talking about. All the other references I get.

    1. Grounder off Schmidt to Bowa to Hebner. Lopes was the batter/runner who still insists he was safe at 1st. We know better.

      1. Aha! Thanks for that clarification, 8mark. That makes me feel better. That was just before my time (born in 1976).

  11. Holy crap that article needs some MLB review for lengths
    Just kidding Jim I enjoyed every word
    Thanks again, for all of your hard work a

  12. The only real rule change I’m a proponent of is to put it a pitch clock. Watch some old clips of even playoff games from the 70’s and it amazing how much quicker both pitcher and batter are ready for the next pitch.

    There just isn’t any reason why it should take more than 20-25 seconds between pitches expect for broken bats, etc. Other changes like limiting pitching changes, etc. have too much impact on the outcome of the games. I do agree that the catchers should be limited in their trips just like the pitching coach but you do have to let them talk on occasion.

    I don’t really care about the IBB but there generally aren’t that many in a game to make much of a difference either way.

    My only problem with expanding replay is that it tends to slow down the action, not make it faster. College football games are now stopped too many times for replay..

  13. I respect the work that Jim put into his article. His research was extraordinary.

    There are some suggestions that I agree with. But not all.
    Thus, having a 20 second limit on pitchers throwing the ball. Intentional walks called by the manager instead of watching 4 pitches going nowhere.

    But the call for a sped up game is, IMO, a development of TV broadcasts. When I first began to have a passion for the game at age 13, going to the game was a special treat. Back then there were Sunday double headers which required strength of both the back and the rear end. I ate it all up. I was not impatient for the game to end except for the last few innings of a losing cause.

    Summer offers a chance of relaxing diversion….even night games when getting to sleep at a decent time was the only time urgency.

    I’ve always considered the game to be a relaxing time with others straining themselves on the field for my benefit. Hot dogs, a beer, popcorn, etc. made the day even more special.

    The game delays only sometimes were annoying when they were too long. I do not want a change to visits to the mound; I see them as necessary to strategize in the game’s circumstances, and as far as I know the rule still prevails that require that any second visit to the mound for that pitcher to be removed.

    Some people strike me as in a hurry to get the game over with in order to get to do other things. Not me.

    The small changes mentioned here by me are enough. The human factor that can be checked out by cameras is a worthy attempt to get things right. Otherwise, I don’t concede to the more radical changes offered by Jim.

  14. Put in the pitch clock and prohibit the batters from “adjusting” their gloves, helmets and jocks after every pitch. If the pitcher has the ball ready to be thrown, the batter will receive a called strike if not in the batters box at delivery. No mound visits except to remove the pitcher. Don’t know what to do about throws over to first. The pitch clock should reset to a lower number or guys will be stealing second if they see the clock running down with no chance for a reset unless the ball is delivered home. The clock cant be fully reset or pitchers will stall just by throwing to first as it winds down.

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