Commentary Time for baseball to pick up the pace | NWADG – Northwest Arkansas News

Even baseball’s fiercest defenders will admit the sport went in the wrong direction in 2016 — the games ran too long, managers called on too many relievers who took forever. Sitting through nine innings, especially in the post-season, was a test of patience, if not one’s sanity.

Even the historic postseason came at a steep price. Game 2 of the World Series lasted 4:04 without going into extra innings. America fell in love with the Cubs, but the process was interminable. The average game in October took nearly 3 1/2 hours, which means you had to stick with the pitching changes and commercial breaks and instant replay huddles until almost midnight.

Rob Manfred isn’t blind to the trend line — he knows baseball’s pace-of-game initiative is failing and will continue to backslide unless radical measures are adopted. As the commissioner told ESPN earlier in the year, “this topic is like dandelions. The minute you look the other way, you’ve got them all over your lawn.”

To this point, baseball’s attempts to streamline have been too modest and ineffective. Batters were forced to keep one foot in the box starting in 2015 but the work-arounds soon became obvious. Ask for time, or step back to avoid a close pitch, or question a borderline strike. Umpires eventually grew weary of enforcement.

The result? The average regular season game, which was trimmed to 2:56 in 2015, crept back to 3:04 last year. Manfred is right. The dandelions are winning.

We’re here to help, although not without a warning for purists: our changes are cataclysmic. We’re talking about pitch-clocks, banning mound visits, reining in those dreadfully slow instant-replay conferences.

The idea is to shake the game’s very foundation and bring it into the new millennium. The makeover would likely be too severe for Manfred, but he should learn why soccer is growing in popularity in the U.S.

It’s the running clock.

With no breaks in the action, soccer enjoys constant tension, not to mention an identifiable starting and end point. You can practically set your watch to the two-hour match. Baseball, beautiful and subtle, can’t install the same time-boundaries, but there’s still a way to make it faster-paced. Here’s how.

Eliminate all mound visits

Yes, every single one, which includes the pointless chat with the pitching coach that precedes the unnecessary summit with the manager. This is a time-consuming ceremony just to summon a new arm from the bullpen. If a reliever is needed, he has to run, not walk, to the mound.

The same edict applies to catchers; they stay put in The New Order. Besides, they usually have nothing useful to say on the mound, having been dispatched on orders from the dugout.

Limit pitching changesto two per inning

Nothing has done more to slow the pace of game than the over-reliance on relievers, especially in the late innings. Case in point was Game 5 of the National League Champion Series between the Dodgers and Nationals. The seventh inning alone took 66 minutes, with Washington burning through six pitchers.

Not surprisingly it took 4:32 to finish the contest, the longest nine-inning game in postseason history and the longest nine-inning game of any kind in the NL. The obsessive hunt for the right match-up is out of control, a monster created by the monsoon of data that now runs the sport. It’s hard to believe this is what baseball is supposed to be.

Implement a 10-secondpitch clock

Crazy, right? Not really. The minor leagues began experimenting with a 20-second clock in 2015 with pleasing results: the average Class AAA game ended 16 minutes sooner because hurlers were no longer manicuring the mound between pitches or flipping the rosin bag to dry their hands.

Of course, the smart hurlers will find a way to circumvent this proposal. Throwing over to first would, theoretically, re-start the clock. But there’ll be a limit on that, too — no more than two attempted pick-offs per at-bat.

Keep batters in the box

This would’ve been a killer for David Ortiz, but the re-strapping of the batting gloves, tapping of the spikes and endless practice swings have to go. So too, do the face-to-face visits with the third-base coach. Learn the signs; it’s not quantum physics. If a batter can’t figure them out, it shouldn’t be at the expense of the viewing public.

Keep commercial breaksto one minute

Another revolutionary idea, because what’s more important to baseball than advertising revenue? But 2:30 is still too long of an interruption — a drop-dead momentum killer. Our solution? Increase ad rates and start selling space on players’ helmets and jerseys.

And let’s go one step further and hawk space on Fox’s on-screen graphics, too. Everything would be up for grabs for the smart sponsor, because fans will suddenly be paying attention instead of heading to the kitchen or restroom during breaks.

Sports on 12/22/2016


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