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Tue, April 23

Guzzardi: Play ball! Baseball fans brace for big changes

Spring training is underway, and fans whose passion for baseball dates back decades brace themselves for more game-altering, useless and annoying changes. Major League Baseball commissioner Rob “Meddling” Manfred is back at it with more dumb ideas that will, if implemented, distract from the game on the field.

Manfred’s latest folly, currently being tested in spring training, is the pitch clock that will limit hurlers to 20 seconds in between pitches. It may or may not be used in the future.

Another experiment that the Atlantic League is testing is a three-batter minimum on relief pitchers. And eventually, the dreaded robot umpire will take its place behind home plate. Count on it!

Fans will remember, with irritation, that Manfred is responsible for the tedious replay review system which slows the game’s pace.

As fans sit on their hands, bench coaches call their video guys, umpires stare at managers for an order to look at replay, and the umpiring crew deliberates, then consults with the New York-based experts – snail’s pace stuff.

More Manfred tedium: the automatic intentional base on balls wherein the manager simply flashes four fingers, and the batter trots to first base. The pitcher is relieved of throwing the traditional four wide ones.

The estimated game time saved is only a few seconds, but to Manfred every second lost is precious.

Manfred being Manfred, he cooked up the pitch clock with an eye toward bringing it to regular season games as quickly as possible.

Manfred’s czar-like authority over MLB allows him to impose the pitch clock in 2019 regardless of the players or their union’s opinions. Kansas City Royals’ manager Ned Yost has his doubts.

Yost said: “I’m not so sure if a 20-second clock is going to make that big of a difference.” And three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer is a pitch clock critic, too, and thinks that it messes with the game’s fabric. Wild guess: Yost and Scherzer know more about baseball than Manfred.

In reality, the pitch clock will slow the game as the umpires will have the challenging responsibility to decide whether the pitcher has released the ball before the clock expires. The arguments that will certainly ensue will be time eater-uppers, too. Truth is that baseball games aren’t too long especially when compared to the National Football League. Lining up for punts, kick offs, injury time outs, huddles, penalties, endless half time shows and more commercial breaks than anyone can endure are the stuff of mind-crushing boredom.

According to a Wall Street Journal analysis, shots of players standing around doing nothing takes up 67 minutes per telecast; commercials take up another hour, and actual on-field action is a mere 11 minutes. Yet, fans don’t mind.

The 2019 Super Bowl, the granddaddy of long games, set a streaming viewership record with a 31 percent increase over last year.

Baseball games’ length isn’t the problem, especially when they take place on balmy summer evenings when the yard is perhaps the most pleasant place in town to spend a few leisurely hours.

The problem isn’t the elapsed time between pitches, but rather the amount of time that passes without on-field action. Too many strikeouts and too many foul balls put too many fans to sleep.

During the 2018 season, in at least one month, batters struck out more times than they registered hits. And Travis Sawchik reported at FiveThirtyEight.com that, over the last two decades, foul balls have increased significantly while the number of balls put in play has dropped dramatically.

Pitch clocks can’t cure those ills. Sawchik recommends that MLB investigate decreasing the foul territory’s area which might produce more foul outs that, in turn, would shorten games.

Fans might as well relax; the pitch clock is coming and sooner rather than later. Manfred’s fixation with reducing the length of baseball games isn’t going away.

Too bad that Manfred can’t learn from baseball’s rich history. Dating back to the first games in the mid-19th century, baseball, and the way it’s played, has always ebbed and flowed. Let the game be the game, and stop fiddling with it.

Joe Guzzardi is a Society for American Baseball Research and Internet Baseball Writers Association member. Contact him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

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