Home Beltway Report: The baseball clock, it is a ticking

Beltway Report: The baseball clock, it is a ticking

Scott German

baseball600With large, glowing red numbers, the timer on the centerfield wall at Goodyear Ballpark, in Phoenix, Arizona ticked down Tuesday, counting off seconds and ushering in changes.

The first spring training game of the year, a contest played between the defending World Series champ San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics officially put baseball on the clock.

Major League Baseball introduced its new Pace of Play initiatives during five exhibition games in Arizona and Florida. There were, as expected, a few minor glitches, as players, managers, umpires, and fans adjusted to the rules. Rules designed to make games shorter, more appealing to TV viewers and perhaps attract a new generation of fans. Fans that the TV “experts” often accuse of having short-attention spans that make it a hard sell to advertisers paying for television rights.  Thus on this opening day of the spring training season, baseball had a slightly different look.

Under the new rules, hitters are required to keep one foot in the batter’s box after taking a pitch. The pitchers are also under the microscope, having a time requirement to get their warm-up tosses completed before the clock, set at 2:25 for regionally televised games and 2:45 for national broadcast, is down to 30 seconds.  The batter must be ready by the time the clock reaches five seconds.

Clocks were installed at all ballparks throughout Arizona and Florida. The countdown clocks, for the most part, went unnoticed, which is intentional by Major League Baseball.

Unlike game clocks at both the professional and college level in football and basketball these clocks are more for the players on the field to observe than the fans.  In the game between the Giants and the Athletics the game progressed as usual. Occasionally hitters caught themselves about to drift out of the box but quickly made sure at least one foot remained within the chalk.  MLB is using the spring training schedule and regular-season games in April to break everyone in.  Starting May 1, 2015, offenders will face discipline, most likely fines. For the inaugural season of the new Pace of Play incentives clock, no in-game penalties will be imposed.  In addition to the requirements put on batters and pitchers, managers must challenge umpires calls from the dugout and play is to promptly resume when the broadcast returns from commercial breaks.

About the only thing that has seemed to work in spring training is that batters are keeping one foot in the box between pitches.  From my observation of some of the televised games, not every hitter is doing it, but there does not seem to be as many long strolls between pitches.  Yes, it’s only March and with the umpires easing the new rules into play, hopefully by May 1 both hitters and pitchers are ready to “step up to the plate.”

Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter noted that after about 10 days into the spring season, the new rules don’t seem to be consistently enforced from umpire to umpire. “We all know the rules, but nobody has been pushing them very hard, at least where we’ve been, so from a manager’s standpoint it has made it difficult to instruct my players,” said Showalter.

Personally, being a lifelong fan of the game, I subscribe to Yogi Berra’s beliefs about the length of a baseball game. Berra once said, “If you’re in a hurry, then don’t go.” I do believe, however, the pace of the game can be increased without taking anything away from the quality of play on the field or the experience of watching a game either in person or on television.  But if the umpires don’t start picking up the pace with MLB’s Pace of Play initiatives, there is going to be a mess to clean up May 1.

– Column by Scott German

Scott German

Scott German

Scott German covers UVA Athletics for AFP, and is the co-host of “Street Knowledge” podcasts focusing on UVA Athletics with AFP editor Chris Graham. Scott has been around the ‘Hoos his whole life. As a reporter, he was on site for UVA basketball’s Final Fours, in 1981 and 1984, and has covered UVA football in bowl games dating back to its first, the 1984 Peach Bowl.