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%
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.