Baseball is America’s pastime. It is the summer sport; the sport families can attend outdoors when the weather is hot and humid across most of the United States, with tickets coming at a relatively cheap price in most markets.
It is also a sport of tradition. Outside of the Steroid Era, MLB hasn’t made any era-defining changes in its game… until now, as the sport has entered into the era of pace.
Ever since Rob Manfred took over as MLB commissioner from Bud Selig at the end of the 2014 season, Manfred has been obsessed with changing the game of baseball. Baseball has instituted many rule changes in his tenure, including a three-batter minimum requirement for relievers, extra innings starting with a runner on second base, and the elimination of the pitcher hitting in the National League.
In 2023, MLB took another step towards changing “America’s pastime” with the implementation of three new game-changing rules:
- A “pitch clock” for both pitchers and hitters.
- A “shift ban”
- Bigger bases
The most controversial change is the first bullet mentioned, the pitch clock.
As a “traditionalist”, when I heard about the idea of a pitch clock, I was vehemently against it. The idea of baseball using something similar to a shot clock in basketball didn’t sit right with me. Are baseball games long? Yes, but they’re supposed to be long. The drama of the pitcher staring down the hitter in a one-run game in the last inning is the appeal of America’s pastime. The idea, to me, sounded like Manfred was purposely trying to tick off its elder and traditional fanbase. I didn’t care about the trial MLB conducted in the minor leagues. I did not think it was going to work.
Then, MLB’s Opening Day for 2023 took place on March 30, and by the fifth inning of my hometown Cleveland Guardians game, I admitted I was completely wrong about the pitch clock.
The game did not feel too fast. The pitches and at-bats did not seem rushed. The game was moving along at a perfect pace, and it has continued to do so ever since.
Now in mid-July, I almost had forgotten about the days MLB had when there wasn’t a clock attached to every pitch. The clock feels like it has always been there.
Don’t get me wrong: There are still minor tweaks to the clock I would make. I do believe 15 seconds with no runners on base is a little quick sometimes. If MLB instituted a 20-second clock for all situations, like they have now with runners on base, I think it would be perfect. I don’t necessarily like the “pick-off rule”, where pitchers have two throws over to first base before they are charged with a ball. Once the pitcher makes his two moves, the runner essentially steals second base almost every time.
I also believe MLB has been a little too strict when it comes to the ruling of the clock. A pitcher has until one second left on the clock to begin his windup. A hitter has eight seconds remaining on the clock to step into the batter’s box. MLB umpires have been super strict with the timing, and I would like to see MLB take the approach the NFL has with its Delay of Game penalty, where once the play clock hits zero, the official looks at the ball, and then if the ball is not snapped, a flag is thrown. It gives an extra half second for the offense to prevent delaying game speed, and I think the same could be applied to MLB’s pitch clock. That half a second could be the difference between a wind-up and a step into the batter’s box.
I’m also curious to see if MLB is a little more lenient on the pitch clock come the postseason in October. MLB’s biggest nightmare (as well as fans) is for a playoff game — or heaven forbid, a World Series game — ending on a pitch clock violation like games did in Spring Training. If that happens, the negative effects on MLB would be felt throughout the entire sports media landscape.
So far, MLB game times are down significantly this year, ratings are up and so is attendance. For a sport that is so heavily criticized (and justifiably so) for its lack of marketing and its dying popularity, Manfred may have actually saved face with the pitch clock.
Baseball with a clock, and it’s universally praised?! Who knew five months ago when Spring Training started?!