I first started watching Major League Baseball on television back in 1988 with the Chicago Cubs on WGN. At the time I was just a cursory fan – loved watching Andre Dawson and Ryne Sandberg hit home runs, but was oblivious to the rest of the teams – but in 1993 I jumped into rotisserie baseball and started watching baseball a lot more heavily. I’d stay up late and watch games on the west coast on weekends and catch every episode of Baseball Tonight and SportsCenter for highlights and stats.
I bring this up because I continued to watch a lot of baseball year after year. One day in the mid-oughts (should I call them the 2000’s?) I saw that ESPN Classic was airing the game where Pete Rose broke the all-time hits record against the San Diego Padres in 1985.
Turning it on, I was struck by how quickly Padres pitcher Eric Show was working on the mound – pitch, get the ball back from the catcher, a couple seconds to get the signal from the catcher for the next pitch, and pitch and repeat. Comparing how quickly he worked to the pace of the game today is staggering. (Sorry I couldn’t find video of this. You’d be struck at the contrast too, though.)
Many sports fans claim that baseball is boring today compared to other sports, and Major League Baseball believes the issue is the pace at which the game moves. A Major League Baseball game today consists of players spending a lot of time standing around with little bits of action thrown in every couple of minutes.
(Some fans argue that baseball games take too long – however, football games and basketball games at the highest levels take similar amounts of time. The waiting around and low density of game action relative to time spent is what generates this belief.)
So what is Major League Baseball doing to combat this pace-of-play problem? They’re putting in rules!
Rule 8.04 of the Official Baseball Rules states:
When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call “Ball.”
The 12-second timing starts when the pitcher is in possession of the ball and the batter is in the box, alert to the pitcher. The timing stops when the pitcher releases the ball.
The intent of this rule is to avoid unnecessary delays. The umpire shall insist that the catcher return the ball promptly to the pitcher, and that the pitcher take his position on the rubber promptly. Obvious delay by the pitcher should instantly be penalized by the umpire.
That’s the rule as it pertains to pitchers, but what about the batters? They cause delays as well!
Rule 6.02(d)(1) states for batters:
The batter shall keep at least one foot in the batter’s box throughout the batter’s time at bat, unless one of the following exceptions applies, in which case the batter may leave the batter’s box but not the dirt area surrounding home plate:
(i) The batter swings at a pitch;
(ii) The batter is forced out of the batter’s box by a pitch;
(iii) A member of either team requests and is granted “Time”;
(iv) A defensive player attempts a play on a runner at any base;
(v) The batter feints a bunt;
(vi) A wild pitch or passed ball occurs;
(vii) The pitcher leaves the dirt area of the pitching mound after receiving the ball; or
(viii)The catcher leaves the catcher’s box to give defensive signals.
If the batter intentionally leaves the batter’s box and delays play, and none of the exceptions listed in Rule 6.02(d)(1)(i) through (viii) applies, the umpire shall award a strike without the pitcher having to deliver the pitch. The ball is dead, and no runners may advance. The umpire shall award additional strikes, without the pitcher having to deliver the pitch, if the batter remains outside the batter’s box and further delays play.
(Note: the Official Rules of Baseball indicate Rule 6.02(d)(1) applies to “all National Association Leagues” and I’m not sure if this means it applies to Major League Baseball games or not. In my opinion, it really should.)
So now there are rules, and the umpires are expected to enforce them. The Major League Baseball Collective Bargaining Agreement is set between the 30 Major League Baseball clubs (the teams) and the Major League Baseball Players Association (the players), and part of the negotiations for the CBA include what rules of baseball should be allowed, added, or removed. This includes potential fines and suspensions for players violating these pace-of-game rules. (I guess it’s six-strikes-you’re-out when it comes to violations and fines.)
These MLBPA CBA discussions do not include the umpires – how are umpires held accountable for enforcing those rules? The umpires’ union also has their own CBA with Major League Baseball – unfortunately I haven’t been able to locate a copy of their CBA like I could for the MLBPA. Perhaps this umpires’ CBA includes those rules that are to be enforced.
This is a Pace of Game Summary Report, or an audit sheet for checking how long half-innings take and what some causes of extended non-essential activities would be. It’s hard to make out from the photo, but the first column identifies the half-inning and the next three columns are hard to distinguish. Perhaps average time between pitches? Time spent per batter? The last column is for notes that indicate what potential causes of delays might be.
However, based on what I think I see on this form, it doesn’t appear that the audit form measures things directly tied to the Official Baseball Rules as indicated above. How many times did elapsed seconds between pitches exceed 12 seconds? How often did the batter step out of the batter’s box when not permitted?
In addition, are there any goals MLB hopes to achieve with this? I’m sure “increasing the pace of play” is the plan but how is that measurable? Can Bud Selig and the MLB offices turn this into a S.M.A.R.T. goal? What is a good versus bad result? Goals that are vague and unmeasurable aren’t really goals – they’re statements.
On top of that, I rarely hear of players getting fined for slow pace of play. Only the worst offenders appear to be the ones that receive fines but it certainly appears that nearly every player is violating these pace-of-game rules – why else would games take as long as they do if there weren’t such frequent violations?
Obviously Major League Baseball is making an attempt at heightening the pace of the game. If it’s true that 88 minutes of a Major League Baseball game is spent waiting around for the next pitch then this should help cut out some of the waste.
However, if Major League Baseball genuinely wants to make some headway in this facet of their game, they have to tighten the audit procedures to directly tie to the official rules, they have to standardize the rules and enforcement with the umpires, and they must be objective and consistent when handing out fines.
(H/T to Paul Lukas and Uni-Watch for posting that picture of the audit sheet, and to Mark Graban of LeanBlog.org for pointing it out!)