If You Time It, They Will Hurry Baseball Hopes New Rules Will Speed Games, Pick Up Interest
Yeah, you with the bat in your hands. Get moving!
Enough with the spitting and scratching and standing around. Stop studying the stands, looking for your wife or your girlfriend or a candidate for one or the other. Lose the halfdozen or so practice swings.
Just get into the batter’s box. Put the bat back over your shoulder - and get ready to swing.
And you, you out there on the pitcher’s mound. Throw the ball. Quit walking around, rubbing it up, examining each and every seam as if you stitched it yourself, massaging it so it feels just right.
When you get the ball from the catcher, just take it and throw it right back. Forget about squinting in for signals. Throw whatever you like. Fastballs are preferred because they get to the plate quicker. The occasional curve is OK, but those knucklers are just too slow. Just throw the ball.
Baseball has had it up to here with players who think we have all day for their games. This is 1995. Attention spans are dwindling. Basketball moves at a breakneck pace. Same with hockey. Baseball players just stand around, wasting all that valuable time.
Not any more. On Friday, baseball turned on the clock in a sport that until now was not governed by such commonplace issues of hours, minutes or seconds.
With games meandering along at an average of nearly 3 hours, up 30 minutes since 1980, baseball has introduced new rules to speed things up. Friday night’s first 10 games were played in an average of 2 hours, 40-1/2 minutes, down a bit from the average of 2:53.
For starters, the targets are the batters and pitchers, where the action - or lack of it - takes place.
If hitters find it necessary to step out between pitches, they now must remain within 3 feet of the batter’s box. And with the bases empty, when the batter is set in the box, the pitcher has 12 seconds to deliver.
No more on-deck circle conferences between batter and coach. No more walking back to the dugout for a pine-tar rag for the bat. No more resin bag refreshers for pitchers. Just swing and just pitch. Look out for umps with tape measures and stopwatches.
Deliberate Dave Magadan of the Houston Astros knew this was coming.
“I’ve been working this year on staying in the batter’s box and not stepping out so much,” he said. “It hasn’t been that hard. I think a lot of guys have been getting ready for this.
“I think the harder adjustment will be for the umpires as they try to enforce the rules. Will they have stopwatches and keep track of how long things take? Will they have to draw a line three feet around the box to make sure players stay inside?”
It’s a good thing Mike Hargrove’s playing days are over. The Cleveland manager used to be known as “the human rain delay” when he batted, going through an elaborate routine of tugging his hat, his batting glove, his sleeves, almost anything he could find to delay the moment.
He’d never get away with that stuff now.
Mark Fidrych of Detroit used to talk to the ball before he threw it, explaining precisely what he wanted it to do. It was considered charming when he did it, but if he were around now, the conversations would have to be a lot shorter.
As of Friday, if managers want to change pitchers, they’ve been instructed to do it as soon as they step out of the dugout, not after a leisurely walk to the mound for a indepth conversation with the dejected hurler.
Baseball also has reduced the time between innings to 2 minutes, 5 seconds, except for nationally televised games. At the 1:45 mark, public address announcers will start introducing the first batter in an inning.
What happens to those who ignore the new regulations and stand around while the seconds tick away? Well, there are no specific penalties, although umpires have been encouraged to enforce the rules and could order the pitcher to throw the ball and the batter to stay near the box.
Phillies manager Jim Fregosi understands the problem.
“I think there’s been a lot of things that have slowed up the game,” he said before the start of the Philadelphia-Chicago game Friday, the first under the new rules. “I think there’s ways to speed it up. I think the game is fine the way it is, but I just think some things are taking too long to get done.
“I think, basically, managers slow up the game. I think the first six innings go quick and the next three go slow,” he said.
Baseball innovator Charley Finley has some other ideas to move things along.
“What about the intentional walk?” he said. “That’s a waste of time. Just wave the batter down to first base. They say maybe the pitcher will throw the ball away. Yeah, one time in 1,000. Eliminate the intentional walk. That’s important.”
And while they’re at it, said the former Oakland A’s owner, they ought to reduce all walks to three balls instead of four. That would stop pitchers from wasting pitches, and consequently, time.
That may be a tad too revolutionary, just as it was when Finley first suggested it a quarter century ago.
Phillies’ catcher Darren Daulton thinks the solution can be found without affecting the players on the field.
“If they want to speed up the games,” he said, “don’t show commercials between innings. That’ll speed it up.”