It has been said that one of the greatest things about baseball in comparison to other major team sports is that there is no clock.
You can’t take a knee, dribble out the clock or chip the puck down the ice to preserve a lead. You need 27 outs, and until you get them the team that is trailing still has hope. This is a beautiful aspect of baseball that should be preserved.
However: It very well could be time for a clock within the game — a pitch clock. I was already starting to warm up to the idea; the past few days cemented those feelings.
I was on my annual Great Baseball Road Trip, which has been going strong every year since 2000 (and when something reaches its 17th consecutive year, it deserves to be capitalized).
The trip this year consisted of five baseball lovers, and the venues stretched from the College World Series in Omaha to a Class AAA game in Colorado Springs to a pair of games at Coors Field in Denver.
Thursday’s game between Coastal Carolina and Texas Tech (won 7-5 by Coastal Carolina) took 3 hours, 48 minutes to play nine innings. That was actually an improvement from the early pace: The first 4½ innings were played in 2 hours, 25 minutes.
Friday, the Colorado Sky Sox defeated the Memphis Redbirds 11-6. It was an action-filled game, finished in a reasonable 2 hours, 57 minutes.
On that same day — a game we weren’t at — Colorado and Arizona played the longest nine-inning game in National League history. finishing in 4 hours, 30 minutes. We arrived for Saturday’s game, which took a still-ponderous 3 hours, 35 minutes. The score Saturday was 11-6, just like Friday’s Class AAA game. There was roughly the same amount of action. But it took 38 extra minutes.
There are numerous differences between these games, but the most obvious and notable one to a group of seasoned baseball watchers was this: The Class AAA game had a pitch clock, while the college and MLB games did not.
After the pitcher got the ball back from the catcher, a 20-second countdown began on digital clocks displayed prominently in the outfield and behind the plate. I don’t remember there ever being a threat to the clock expiring, but just having it there seemed to set an expectation of keeping the game moving.
It was wonderful.
MLB has worked on its length-of-game problem, which is a related issue but not the whole issue. And the league deserves kudos for knocking the average game time from three hours-plus in 2014 down to 2:56 in 2015. However, by mid-May in 2016 that average time had crept back over three hours.
More than just the time is the pace. If a game takes a longer time than average but is played at a crisp pace, there is far less griping than these slogfests in which pitchers walk around the mound between pitches before finally settling in, only to find the batter isn’t ready yet.
If the pace of play has five guys who ostensibly love baseball shifting around in their seats, looking at their watches and talking wistfully about the one game they saw on the trip that featured a pitch clock, maybe that’s a piece of anecdotal evidence that is meaningful.
Because I can only imagine what it’s like for people who don’t love baseball.