The future of baseball is up in the air thanks to Major League Baseball’s intent to make rule changes to speed up games.
Commissioner Rob Manfred has been harping on pace-of-game issues since he took over for Bud Selig, yet the average game time of 3 hours, 5 minutes in the first half of this season would set a new record if it holds up the rest of the year.
Manfred reportedly hopes to install a pitch clock to prevent pitchers from dawdling, as has been used in the minors for the last three seasons. Though many pitchers may object, the collective bargaining agreement with players gives Manfred the right to implement it next year unilaterally.
“If I can tell you one thing that has been true about my career in baseball, it’s I’m a deal guy at heart,” Manfred said. “I would much rather have an agreement than proceed unilaterally. That is particularly true when it comes to changes that affect play on the field because only the players are in between those lines, not any of us. So I’m hopeful we (can) have an agreement.”
The games might lose a couple of minutes with a pitch clock, but Indians reliever Andrew Miller said it’s not the answer.
“I’m very against it,” Miller said. “I wish we were listened to a little more sometimes. I’m glad everyone has the best interests of the game in mind. … The best product is the one the fans want to watch, and if pace of play is an issue to them, then we need to address it and get on top of it. The downtime in games is the biggest issue to me.
“The pitch clock? In the right moment of the season, the right moment of the game, having a pitcher and catcher communicate or work through a big moment actually builds the excitement. In a blowout game in May between teams that are fourth and fifth place in the division and doesn’t mean anything, it drives the fans crazy.
“I think we need to put the ball in play more often. I’m very intrigued about why we have talked about making the strike zone smaller. If you make it larger it will actually (lead to fewer strikeouts) because you would put the ball in play more often. These hitters are so good and know the strike zone (so well) now, and can go watch replays instantly after their at-bat, get information and legitimately gripe about a pitch a quarter or half-inch off the black of the plate.
“It shows how talented they are but also how we’ve gotten to the point we have. I think strikeouts are exciting, home runs are exciting, but the long walk and whatnot is not something fans go for.”
Players union executive director Tony Clark said he understands MLB’s complaints, but he’s trying to balance the wishes of his players with baseball’s insistence the long game times are turning fans off.
“I’ve said all along there are challenges related to pace of game and simple implementation of a rule or rules,” Clark said. “It’s a delicate balance you try to strike in improving the game while not changing it so much that even the current baseball fans don’t recognize it.
“We have been willing to talk about how to improve the game … but it’s also a delicate balance when you enjoy offense but the length of the game can increase (with more runs), while also acknowledging a 10-8 game can take 2 hours, 40 minutes and a 2-1 game can take four hours. The guys have a lot of ideas and are willing to have that dialogue here for the second half of the season.”
Both players and executives had to come away from All-Star week with mixed feelings about the state of the game.
The good news for baseball is ratings were up for last Tuesday’s game, though only slightly over last year’s record low. The bad news is the All-Star Game was beaten in the ratings by an NBC show called “America’s Got Talent,” meaning more people were tuned into Howie Mandel and Heidi Klum than Aaron Judge and Bryce Harper.
Baseball may consider itself the national pastime, but one of its biggest events was far from Must-See TV. The Home Run Derby is almost as popular as the All-Star Game itself, and inadvertently may have led to the exodus of bored and anxious fans in Tuesday night’s game.
Traffic gridlock ensued outside Marlins Park for more than an hour after the end of the Derby, so many fans at the game made their way to the exits by the seventh inning. By the time the Mariners’Robinson Cano homered off the Cubs’Wade Davis in the 10th for the deciding run, thousands of fans were gone.
“There were obviously challenges, as there are with any event like this,” Marlins President David Samson told the Miami Herald. “Any Super Bowl, World Series, All-Star Game, there are logistical challenges. They’re guaranteed with any big event.”
Perhaps, but reporters from various media outlets who had spent much of their careers covering such big events were in agreement that Miami seemed ill-prepared to host the All-Star Game, from security mixups to long concession lines and right down to the confused operators of the main video board, who showed Daniel Murphy’s photo and stats in the first inning instead of those of Buster Posey, who was batting at the time.
Organizations have years to plan the logistics and make sure things run smoothly, but the Marlins treated it like it was just another sparsely attended regular-season game.