It’s the best time of year for baseball fans, and with a few game-free days before the World Series, some stories that might have slipped under the radar are getting prime exposure. None more so than a piece on an experiment in the Arizona Fall League with a pitch clock. Much like the play-clock in football, and the shot-clock in basketball, the AFL is trying out a twenty-second limit on pitchers. Upon reception of the ball, the pitcher has 20 seconds to come to a set position, the time is displayed on a clock behind and to the side of the batter. One assumes that once he comes set, and with a runner on base, he can look over as often as he wants in an effort to keep the runner close.
I agree with the concept of picking-up the pace of the game, although it has improved over the last decade or so, but I don’t think a displayed clock is the way to go. Much like Tom Hanks’ character Jimmy Duggan in A League of Their Own put it when he said “There’s no crying in baseball” I would suggest that there’s no clocks in baseball! It should be incumbent upon the home-plate umpire to admonish sluggish pitchers and batters and move the game along.
Call me a baseball purist if you want, but the game was designed to be played by people, it should be regulated by people as well. Both sides of that equation, being human, are prone to making mistakes. When a player does so, it’s called an error; when an umpire blows a call, it results in hoots of derision and demands for more electronics. Some argue that based solely on the fact the technology is available, it should be put to use. If we use that logic then why not replace pitchers with machines that can shoot a baseball at 145 miles an hour? I can live with replays as they are essentially tools to help a human umpire get it right. But clocks change the game.
Part of the enjoyment of watching a close baseball game in the late innings is the anticipation that builds with each pitch as batter and pitcher play cat and mouse, trying to read each others mind. An umpire can alter the pace of the game at the appropriate moment, and let things ride when required.
However, if we have those clocks just sitting around gathering dust, then let’s put them to use on pitching changes. Managers would still be able to make as many changes as needed, but I suggest that from the time a manager indicates he is making a pitching change, the new pitcher has 90 seconds to get in from the bullpen and throw a real pitch. This should hasten the trek in from the bullpen. And no I’m not suggesting a return of those golf carts with huge baseball caps, but rather that these professional athletes actually run in to the mound (I understand that with the Designated Hitter rule many American League pitchers may have forgotten how to run, but …).
The pitcher should be warmed-up and ready to go when he arrives, that’s what the bullpen is for. The distance from pitching rubber to plate is 60 feet, six inches in both bullpen and on the field. Regardless, a new pitcher can throw as many warm-up pitches from the mound as he can squeeze into the 90 seconds.
I believe this small change would cut much wasted time from baseball games, however I would prefer to leave the enforcing of it to an umpire, not a clock. It would also cost the TV commercial break that a pitching change affords, so it probably won’t be in place any time soon.