MLB Insights

June 22, 2009 10:01 PM

Rick Reilly As Commissioner: A Pitch Clock?

A couple of weeks ago Rick Reilly wrote an article detailing the changes he would make if he were MLB commissioner.  While there were certainly some valid and well-thought through points, I took serious issue with the first one. 
We'll put in a pitch clock. The reason baseball is slower than cold honey tipped over is that there's no clock when men are on base. You get 10 seconds to shoot a free throw. Golf penalizes you for taking more than 40 seconds over a shot. A chair umpire takes a point from a player who uses more than 25 seconds to serve after a dead ball. But umps let hitters step out of the box to readjust their socks, belts, sleeves, gloves, jerseys and helmets -- after a ball! They let pitchers fuss endlessly with their rosin bags, the rubber and their eternally askew cups, while we fans decide which of our peanuts resemble presidents.
It might be because I am a history buff, baseball in particular, but I think this would be a terrible idea.  Baseball become America's past-time in the 19th century for exactly the opposite reason.  People loved that there were no clocks and no time limits.  After toiling away for twelve hours in a dungy factory with supervisors hanging over their shoulders, and their eyes on the time-clock, baseball was the perfect release.  While labour laws have come a long way since then, many people love baseball for the same reason. 

Also along the historical line, baseball is a timeless sport.  The NBA and NFL have to change their rules on how players are allowed to play defence it seems almost every year.  The NHL is constantly tinkering with goaltender equipment, and also drastically changing penalty infractions.  In my opinion, the last major rule that significantly affected the way the game was played was the Designated Hitter rule in 1973!  The beauty of baseball is that it transcends generations, and this rule would be a slap in the face of traditionalists.

My final and most important critique is that he only discusses the positives.  Yes, games would move at a quicker pace, allowing fans in the Eastern Time Zone to watch the end of West Coast games, and children to attend week-night games.  I have no problem with this, as these points are bang on.  He might even think that this would help attract more casual fans as ball games would be less of a time-commitment.  I would argue the opposite.  If you are a casual fan who watches maybe five or six games a year and does not follow the sport in the off-season, and you turned on your first game in April to see a pitch clock, you would have no idea what happened.  Would it magically make you want to watch more baseball games?  I doubt it.  People love a particular sport for what it is, not how long it lasts.  Every other major sport in North America lasts about three hours, so what is wrong with baseball lasting that long?  Nothing.

In addition to the fact that this rule would not attract any new fans, it would also alienate many traditionalists.  I know people who would boycott MLB if they got rid of the DH; I cannot imagine what their reaction would be to a pitch clock.  Baseball has a much more storied history than the other sports, making it much more difficult to change rules like this.  Albert Pujols plays essentially the same sport that Ted Williams did.  You cannot make the same comparison with Bill Russell and Dwight Howard, or Maurice Richard and Alex Ovechkin. 

Another negative I see is that the rule would be incredibly difficult to enforce.  Would catchers no longer be able to visit the mound?  Would pitchers just throw over to first base a couple times when they needed a minute to recoup?  What if the shortstop's shoelaces come untied?  You do not want to see him trip and hurt himself because the pitcher was forced to deliver a pitch.  There are way too many ways this rule could be abused.

Lastly, take a look at all the arms headed to the disabled around the league.  Matsuzaka, Marcum, McGowan, Volquez, Reyes, Corpas, Sanchez, Santana (Ervin), Maine, and the list goes on.  Now you are telling me that you want to put further strain on their arm by forcing them to throw a pitch when they are not ready.  I do not think so.

As you can see, while Reilly had good intentions with this idea, it is extremely flawed and unrealistic.  I am sure even he knows that it will never be a reailty.  To wrap this up I will leave you with a quote from Bill Vaughan that I believe sums up my argument perfectly: ""I can never understand why anybody leaves the game early to beat the traffic. The purpose of baseball is to keep you from caring if you beat the traffic."

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