In what was one of the most foolish decisions in a lockout full of them, MLB reportedly decided early on in the process *not* to include prospective rules changes in the CBA negotiations. The likely thinking was that if the owners asked for rules changes, the players would use that as leverage to ask for more financial gains, and the league can unilaterally implement rules changes with one year’s notice anyway.
The problem, of course, is that amidst the financially-motivated lockout, this a sport in crisis for reasons that have nothing to do with money. Swift changes to the way the game is played (and broadcast, and accessed) are needed so that the broader fan interest doesn’t continue slipping, and more new/marginal fans can be moved toward something approach serious fandom. And a PART of that process is making sure that the on-field product is the most entertaining version of itself. Given the increasing lack of action on the field and the borderline absurd length of games, you would think it would be important to all sides to talk seriously, immediately, about possible rules changes for the coming season (including some of what has been deployed successfully in the minor leagues). The owners shouldn’t have taken them off the table, and the players should have been ready to aggressively adopt new rules if necessary.
Fast-forward to today – two days before MLB’s imposed deadline for a new CBA before regular season games are cancelled – and it turns out that MLB *IS* trying to get at least some rules changes into the negotiations. Better late than never, I suppose:
— Evan Drellich (@EvanDrellich) February 26, 2022
It’s not entirely clear exactly which rules changes would be under discussion *IF* the players agreed to accelerate those talks, and the tenor of the reporting makes it sound like none of this is likely to happen this weekend anyway. Maybe you could continue to be on the optimistic side and say it’s a good sign that this even came up – it would be truly fruitless to even mention rules if no one thought the economic components of CBA were going to get done any time soon, right? – but I remain pessimistic overall because of the behavior of the owners so far, and the timeline.
Per the report, the players “reacted negatively” to the idea of implementing rules changes this year, which I find galling. I think I’ve made pretty clear where I stand on the economic issues – the players have been screwed for about a decade, and the owners need to be reasonable in making a much, much better deal for the players this time around – so you could hardly accuse me of being unfair to the players. But when it comes to rules changes, I feel like so many reactions I see from the players is resistance, and it really frustrates me. I get that nobody likes change, especially to a sport that is notoriously slow to evolve, but it’s 2022. Shit is different now, and if you truly want to see this sport thrive for future generations, decisions have to be made, even if it creates a little short-term discomfort.
On the pitch clock, specifically: I believe it is not only a good idea, but a necessary one. It is *not* the same thing as a game clock like the other sports have – don’t worry, the beauty of baseball is not fundamentally changed! – and it simply ensures that pitchers and batters keep things moving at a reasonable clip. That’s it. Talk to anyone who has watched a minor league game over the last few years and they will confirm that, pretty soon, you don’t even notice the clock anymore, and all you notice is a faster-paced game. (Also, there is *already a rule on the books* about how long a pitcher can take to deliver a pitch! It just isn’t enforced because there’s no clock!)
If the data shows that a pitch clock significantly improves the pace of action (it does), and if the data shows that a pitch clock at least marginally improves the length of game (it does), and if everyone who has ACTUALLY PLAYED with a pitch clock has said it’s either great or fine (they have), then MLB players need to suck it up and get on board. Period. I mean, half of them have played with a pitch clock in the minor leagues at this point, I have no interest in seeing the veterans who haven’t being the ones to hold up this change. I just don’t have a lot of sympathy on this particular issue, and while I would like the players to agree to it, if they won’t join in, then I hope MLB does unilaterally make this change as soon as possible.
Also: figure out how to augment this to ensure that batters actually do stay in the box …