If you’ve been following MLB with any regularity this offseason, you’ll know that a great number of changes have been proposed by the Commissioner … and a great number of changes have been rejected by the players association.
And although the players and the league have just agreed upon and revealed seven new modifications for the 2017 season, they collectively fall far short of the “reform” language to we’ve so frequently been presented.
Among a great many things – I suspect – the Commissioner wants to institute a 20-second pitch clock (like the very one that has already found success in the Minor Leagues), limit visits to the pitcher’s mound by catchers and infielders, and eliminate the low strike.
Many, if not most, players do not want those things.
Let’s be clear. Not every player is in favor of or against one or all of these rules. But, there is a growing sentiment among the players to resist these sorts of modifications to the game – even though each of those three changes would, ideally, help quicken the pace of play (both inherently and as a result of increased offense/balls in play).
At USA Today, Bob Nightengale grabs the players’ perspective, summed up with the quote that there’s “always some stupid new rule.” Take, for example, some comments from Jonathan Lucroy: “If you put a clock on baseball, you take away the sanctity of the game and the character of it,” Lucroy told USA TODAY Sports. “The game has been played like this way for 150 years, and now we’re going to change it? … It doesn’t make any sense.”
While I understand the spirit of Lucroy’s comment, I still find it extremely frustrating. While there may very well be reasons not to change the game, the “150 years” thing is just never, ever going to be a justifiable one. That argument could literally be used for almost anything that has a history, rendering it wholly meaningless. Things always change. Hopefully it’s for the better, but resisting for resisting’s sake is not helpful. And moreover, there ALREADY is a time limit for pitchers to deliver the ball to the plate. In fact, it’s possible that the 20-second pitch clock would actually be an increase in the amount of time permitted by the current rules.
So which do you prefer? A strict enforcement of the 12-second rule that’s been in place for some time but is almost never even referenced, or something more clearly measured by a visible clock for 20 seconds? It really should be one of these two things. (Do you remember watching Pedro Baez pitch in the NLCS?)
Kansas City Royals slugger Brandon Moss was the one suggesting that there’s “some stupid new rule” every single year, and even went as far to say he’s happy he won’t be playing in 10 years, because the game’ll be unrecognizable. But he’s not alone.
Chris Young (Royals), Peter Moylan (Royals), Jason Grilli (Blue Jays), Jimmy Rollins (Giants), Cole Hamels (Rangers), and many others voiced their displeasure at the proposed rule changes, but almost all of them don’t really address the difference between pace of play and length-of-game. The rules changes most frequently proposed are more about pace than about length, the latter being what most baseball lifers hate to hear about.
Baseball can be a three+ hour game – it shouldn’t necessarily, but it can – so long as there’s action on the field. None of the realistically proposed changes aim solely at shortening the game. But somehow, that’s become the talking point: “Who needs less baseball!?” No one. No one wants less baseball. It’s just that MLB wants to make sure fans – especially new and prospective fans – actually are watching baseball when they watch baseball.
Cutting out some of the downtime. Increasing the action on the field. It seems hard to disagree with these goals as MLB takes a long view of the sport, and considers that the median age of its fan base is already 53 years old.
In my opinion, the league needs to do a better job (I know they’ve been trying) to lobby their points more effectively. Visits to the mound, delivering the ball in a reasonable amount of time, eliminating the low strike, etc. are all meant to increase the action on the field organically (pace of play). If there’s less downtime, but games are longer overall, I’d chalk that up as a win.
I understand fully that I have a much more progressive take on the sport and its needs, but if the goal of any new rule is to make improvements, and I believe that the tactic will be successful, I will support it.
We all love this game, but if you want it to remain a celebrated and nationally-relevant sport in 20 or 30 years, things need to change now. There are problems and MLB is trying to address them proactively.