Shama’s Changes to Speed Up MLB
Before any MLB baseball loyalists become cranky reading this column, let me be clear: I like the sport. It’s just way overdue for MLB power brokers to shorten the duration of games.
The Minnesota Twins opened their 2021 regular season schedule last Thursday. The length of the game (including the 10th inning) was 4 hours, 14 minutes. The duration and lack of pace was annoying, despite the excitement of opening day. By 5:15 p.m. I was in an internal debate whether to postpone preparing dinner, or rub my weary eyes to better witness more of the marathon.
Three to four hour games long ago became the norm, a startling contrast to MLB’s golden age in the 1950s and 1960s when fans expected a game of two hours and 30 minutes, or less. It wasn’t even front page news when a game lasted less than two hours. Not only did we have Killebrew and Oliva, Mantle and Maris, Mays and Aaron, Koufax and Drysdale, but we had a game delighting us with the pace of play—with assurances there would be no conflict with dinner.
MLB has such a problem SI.com wondered recently if the game will become a niche sport within five years. Once America’s most popular spectator sport, baseball now moves at an agonizing pace while testing the patience of fans, including restless youth more interested in their phones than a parade of pitching changes on the diamond.
So it’s the start of the work week and I have ideas for change, even if they make Abner Doubleday and Calvin Griffith roll over in their graves. I am not the first—and sadly won’t be the last—to suggest revisions to bring America’s former pastime into the 21st century. MLB’s fuddy-duddy policy makers, along with the Players Association, should finally listen up and consider the following:
In a nine innings game, teams will be limited to three pitching changes. After removing the starter, a manager can make multiple changes in an inning but he will know only three total pitchers are allowed to come out of the bullpen for the entire game. (I know that’s a doozy, and yes, I am sober.)
Pitching changes eat up way too much time so in the future nobody lumbers from the bullpen to the mound. Walk briskly, jog, or have a golf cart available to expedite travel time. (Not to worry about pollution: use electric carts).
Upon arrival at the mound, more change: no warm-up pitches. A reliever has been throwing in the bullpen long enough to be ROA (Ready-on-Arrival).
Mound visits? The catcher and teammates can strategize with a pitcher for a maximum of 20 seconds, but just three times per game. The pitching coach or manager are allowed on the mound only for pitching changes and to offer a suggestion to the reliever (20 seconds max).
Twenty seconds has been the time allowed between pitches in the minor leagues. MLB should go with 15 seconds.
A pitch clock receives a yes vote here as do two other moves already made by MLB—second games of double headers are seven innings, and extra innings start with a runner on second base.
If rules changes are going to put zip back in the game time is precious. Once hitters step in the batting box they stay. No asking the umpire for “time,” and then step away from the plate to check a wristband, or contemplate dinner reservations. Maybe swat away an insect in between pitches, but no leaving the box.
Replays to review possible miscues by the umpires? The timeouts for replays are sometimes so long you can start and finish an argument with your spouse. And those replays, just like spousal arguments, don’t always get things right. Put baseball back in the hands of humans like in the golden age, and spurn technology except in the ninth inning or extra innings. Then each manager can have one appeal.
Close and controversial plays do stir debate, and make for grand theatre on the diamond. A manager will be allowed to jaw face-to-face with the umpire for two minutes max, and just one time per game.
TV ads during games? Advertising pays the bills but MLB should enforce this policy between half innings and innings: it’s exactly two minutes until the pitcher is on the mound and ready to throw his first pitch.
Now here is the mother of doozies. Hitters too often don’t put the ball in play, leading to extended stays at the plate. Batters foul off so many balls on three-two counts it seems like the Ground Hog Day movie sequel. Here’s what to do: each batter gets 12 pitches and if he fouls off the last one it’s a strikeout.
Rules need enforcement and MLB should not only institute serious reform but make sure policies are adhered to by assigning “law enforcement” at every game. A rules official sees to it that the new system is enforced including assessment of fines when appropriate.
So that’s about it, except for this: On Thursday the Twins play their home opener against the Seattle Mariners. With the likelihood of a long game, plus a possible rain delay, bring your knitting bag, and deep breathing manual.