Major League Baseball is the oldest of the 4 major professional sports leagues, and there is no doubt that they have changed the game in many ways since its inception in 1869. With that being said, the recent changes to the MLB rules have definitely made many people scratch their heads.
Following the idea to start with a runner on second in extra innings, MLB actually did mandate that they would be doing away with the traditional intentional walk. What this means is that instead of lobbing a baseball to home plate, managers will now be able to signal from the dug out if they would like to intentionally walk a batter.
Per ESPN, it is no surprise that they are doing this to “improve the pace of play.” That is something that the Commissioner is stressing with the implementation of a pitch clock in the minor leagues, among other policies that they want to bring up to the big leagues.
Will shaving off marginal minutes really make a difference to draw other people to the sport? No. True baseball fans don’t care really how long the game is because that is what is normal to them. They love the sport and will watch it till the end. One of the best games I ever went to was the 18 inning game between the SF Giants and the Nationals. I saw every pitch, I was frozen by the end of it, and it was a game I will always remember.
To be honest, I think that working to make the game “better” is a commendable mission. Per USA Today, the average baseball game was 2 hours and 55 minutes. That has increased in the recent years to being just over 3 hours. People always like to say that they don’t like soccer because it is “too slow” for them. Little do most people realize that soccer is honestly the “fastest” sport in terms of length next to hockey. Two halves, both 45 minutes with maybe 10 total minutes in stoppage time added on on average is pretty fast compared to a 3.12 hour football game, but hey that is neither here nor there. It’s no secret that people supposedly like “faster” sports.
Rob Manfred seems to think that pace of play is the only way to fix the game and to attract younger people to the sport. I’d argue that the opinion is a misguided idea of what young people consider a “fast” sport because plenty of young people willingly sit through 3-4 hour football games for every Sunday for 16 weeks. Their team doesn’t even have to be playing.
Personally, I don’t mind the pace of baseball. Being a baseball fan, I know what I signed up for. I also think that is one of the best things about baseball. Your game is tied after 9 and there is no limit to when it has to end. You get to truly see who the better team is. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people complain about going to penalty kicks in a World Cup. It’s annoying when a great game turns out to end in a tie or a team game gets morphed into one great player v. one great goalie.
Recently I put out a tweet regarding said change of the intentional walk rule.
— Morgan Bagg (@MorganBagg) February 22, 2017
Naturally, the most popular response to that tweet was “well you do know what you’re going to get 99% of the time.” Sure, I would agree with that. But some of the best moments are when they go wrong. That one percent of intentional walks going unintentionally wrong, are some of the funniest moments in baseball history (added the solid one minute of booing the other team for pitching around your guy, and that one minute was a blast). If you wanted to search “intentional walks gone wrong” or something of that nature, your search would be flooded with pitches sailing over the catchers’ heads, and in some cases allowing runners to score a go-ahead run from second or third base.
You get the gist.
Coupled with loosing those unintentionally funny moment, my problem with changing the game this way, is that this is a minute change, to the brink of almost a pointless change (most people would probably view that as a good thing because it’s not really changing anything). But why make the change at all? By Jayson Stark’s numbers, if you do the math, with 932 intentional walks in 2016, that’s about 932 minutes. If you take in to account that baseball games are now said to take about 3 hours and 8 minutes, that totals to be about 5 games. With a season that takes over 2,430 games, you’ve saved the league 0.002 of the time played by eliminating the traditional intentional walk. Cool.
Okay so you want to change the game? Sure, then just do away with the intentional walk completely. Make the pitchers pitch, with no intentional walk safety blanket whatsoever. (MLB and the players would hate this even more because its ACTUAL change, but you get my drift. Yes, I know this is all part of the strategy, but just spit-balling here.) I’d say they need to I’m just saying that when Bryce Harper was walked 13 times in one series versus the Cubs, fans had that same thought. “Man, why would you ever throw a strike to Bryce Harper?”You could arguably ask that also of Nelson Cruz, Mark Trumbo, etc after last season. Not entirely sure (but pretty damn sure) a game where pitchers don’t through strikes to power hitters is a game ANY fan wants to see.
More realistically, you could make batters stop stepping out of the box. You could also actually ENFORCE the pitch clock rule. Those kinds of changes would effectively help to shorten the length of a game, which is what the goal is apparently.
Frankly, I’m still not sure Manfred’s definition of “speeding up” the game is going to help young people engage in baseball. People always want more action. Heck, people just need the illusion of there being more action (just see football, 30 seconds of all out sprinting play and then 2 minutes of commercials). Manfred should re-evaluate what they’re trying to do in getting more young people engaged in baseball. Because this is not the solution.