2015-04-18 / The Rock

Is society becoming too fast for baseball?

By Gavin Goodwin

The game of baseball has seen many changes since its celebrated beginning, from the pitcher’s mound being lowered to a maximum of 10 inches in 1969 to adding a designated hitter (DH) in the American League in 1973.

Rules are added in an effort to improve the game, but are more changes really necessary?

“Concerned by game times that have bloated beyond three hours, Major League Baseball (MLB) is putting baseball on a diet for the 2015 season,” said NPR writer, Bill Chappell, in his February 20 article entitled, "Batter Up, Already: MLB Tries to Speed Up The 2015 Season."

According to Baseball Prospectus, an organization dedicated to the sabermetric numbers side of baseball, the average time of a baseball game has increased approximately 30 minutes since 1984. Baseball Prospectus tracks the average game times back to 1950, which used to be around two hours and 23 minutes. Today, the average MLB baseball game is approximately three hours and nine minutes.

Baseball fans, including many sports writers, blame the increased coaches visits to the pitcher’s mound and the changing of pitchers to only face one batter.

Sports Illustrated writer, Tom Verducci, focuses mainly on MLB baseball. He believes that baseball needs to keep up with society.

“Pace of play is a euphemism for the real problem — dead time. As society speeds up baseball slows down. What other business today, other than a meditation retreat or a monastery, would dare ask more of your time and give you less action? Baseball games take longer than ever to produce fewer and fewer runs and balls in play. Games are being extended not by action but by sheer nothingness.”

Person High School athletic director and former Southern Middle School baseball coach Mark Phillips said, “That’s baseball. Baseball is one of the few sports where a clock is not involved. You might have a game that takes two hours or a game that takes five hours. That is the joy of the game. The strategy of the game will take time and people who enjoy baseball appreciate the fact that games can be slow. Our society has become dependent on a 20 second highlight. That’s not how baseball works.”

Current Person High School baseball coach John Koket commented on the changes MLB is trying to implement.

“I am old school and like the way the game of baseball has been played. I’m really not in favor of taking away limiting parts of the game. Part of baseball’s charm is that, unlike most sports, it has no clock. Baseball’s timelessness should serve as a welcome break in our digital, on demand world. Baseball has had no time constraints to guide it, so play goes on, until someone wins. I love that about baseball.”

Even fans are finding these new proposals for rule changes obnoxious and bad for the game.

Psychologist Russell Carlton is the author of the Baseball Psychologist blog, where he shares his belief that the game rules should remain as they are.

“Baseball is a game where the incentives are actually stacked in the favor of the pitcher dawdling a bit. Baseball is a releaseand retrieve game where it pays for the pitcher to be at peak strength and fully sure of his strategy when he throws the ball. If that means taking another moment to get fully settled, then so be it.”

MLB has already been experimenting with different ways to shorten game times. Last year in the minor leagues, a 20 second pitch clock was introduced to games at the end of the season. If the pitcher does not pitch the ball within 20 seconds, a ball is added to the count. Other ideas have included a rule where the batter can only take one foot out of the batters box, a rule where a pitcher must face at least twobatters, and a rule that limits a coach’s number of visits to the mound in a game.

The shortening of bases and enlarging the size of the ball has also been considered, according to Tom Verducci at Sports Illustrated. There have been many different ideas from a lot of different people all over the baseball world, but in the end it is up to the officials at MLB.

How does this affect lower levels of baseball? Plans for shortening the game may be new to Major League Baseball, but plans have been implemented for high school and travel baseball teams.

According to Phillips, Person High School and other high schools across the state may use a courtesy runner for the pitcher and catcher, play seven innings rather than nine, and intentionally walk the batter if a coach chooses to ask the umpire to do so rather than pitch four balls.

That may be acceptable for youth baseball when student athletes are trying to balance sports and academics, but, for the love of the game, do not implement the same rules for Major League Baseball.

After all, it is America’s favorite pastime.

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