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If MLB Really Wanted To Speed Up Baseball…

MLB About To Introduce Two Ridiculous Rule Changes To “Speed Up” The Game.

Why The Changes Are Bad And What They Should Do Instead.

These fans watching baseball in the 1940s don’t look bored at all. That may be because the average length of a 9 inning baseball game in the 1940s was about 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Baseball is a slow and boring sport. The games are too long. There is not enough scoring.

These are some of the complaints that have been lodged against the National Pastime.

The only part I’ll agree with is that the games are definitely too long.

MLB executives and the players union are trying out two changes this year in the minor leagues to  speed up the game. After trial periods, it is likely these changes will be permanently adapted in the major leagues. They may indeed speed up games by a few seconds. For the vast majority of games these changes will have little effect and do more damage than good to the overall structure of baseball.

There are other changes that would be more practical and easy to implement to dramatically shorten all games without changing baseball itself. I’ll discuss that after we review the two proposed MLB rule changes.

The first proposed rule change is that a team will be able to declare an intentional walk without the pitcher throwing any pitches. The pitcher’s manager will just signal for an intentional walk and the batter will go to first.

The second rule change is even sillier. In extra inning games, starting in the tenth inning each team when they come to bat will start the inning with a man already on second base.

So why are these changes beyond foolish?

Let’s look at the first proposal, the announced intentional walk. Although it sounds like an easy strategy to walk a batter intentionally, it is sometimes not so simple to throw four balls that are nowhere near home plate.

There are pitchers, such as the Yankees Dellin Betances, who when called upon to execute an intentional walk, every ball they throw can be an adventure. A wild pitch is always a possibility. Lobbing the ball to the catcher is hard for some pitchers. There are also quite a number of pitchers who throw the ball too close to the plate, so the batter can swing at the ball. Every now and then you’ll see something that you rarely see. Here are just two recent examples.

Miguel Cabrera drives in a run on an intended intentional walk.

Gary Sanchez of the Yankees nearly hits a home run on a pitch that was meant to be a ball.

As I pointed out many pitchers really have a hard time throwing a ball intentionally outside of the strike zone when the situation is called for. This is far more common than you might imagine. Wild pitches can change the outcome of a ballgame, especially with runners on base as seen here in multiple cases:

Then there is the opposite effect, where the defense pulls a tricky play.

In the early 1970s I recall seeing Reds superstar Johnny Bench get fooled at the plate. It happened on the biggest stage possible; game three of the 1972 World Series.

Bench had a 3 and 2 count when A’s manager Dick Williams paid a visit to the mound. Williams talked with pitcher Rollie Fingers and catcher Gene Tenace and made it seem like Williams told Fingers to intentionally walk the dangerous slugger. Because as Tenace returned to the plate to await the next pitch from Fingers, Tenace, stood up, put his hand out calling for an intentional ball four.

And guess what? Tenace jumped right back behind the plate and Fingers threw a slider for strike three, stunning Bench and everyone watching. It was a deft move you don’t see very often.

I couldn’t believe that I found the moment on YouTube.

In 1996 Dennis Martinez and Tony Pena of the Indians, successfully pulled the same move on Blue Jays star John Olerud.

It’s true, these flubs are extremely rare, but they do occur. The automatic intentional walk is a shortsighted rule change and ends up removing strategy from the game.

One other thing: how does the new rule go down in the record books? Will the pitcher be credited with four pitches thrown? What happens when you are at three balls and one strike, do you just declare the walk when you want to intentionally pass a batter or does the pitcher still have to throw a pitch?

The second rule change of starting the inning of an extra inning game with a man placed on second base to begin the inning is simply ludicrous.

No nail-biters anymore, no strategy – it’s just get this game over with. This is what MLB is saying.

Joe Torre, MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer, is in favor of bringing the rule to the major leagues if the minor league experiment works.

Torre said, “Let’s see what it looks like. It’s not fun to watch when you go through your whole pitching staff and wind up bringing a utility infielder in to pitch. As much as it’s nice to talk about being at an 18-inning game, it takes time.”

Really Joe? How many games went to 18 innings or more in the past ten years? How many times did a manager use their whole pitching staff?

In the entire history of Major League Baseball there have only been 46 games that have gone more than 19 innings. On average less than 10 games per year last 15 innings or more. If a manager goes through his entire pitching staff, well he’s not a good manager. Believe it or not many fans enjoy marathon games. It’s the time of those exciting games that gets people sleepy, not the number of innings.

If you want to ruin baseball then this rule change is perfect.

By the way: how would the scoring work for putting a runner on second? Idiotically.

The pitcher didn’t allow the runner on, so why penalize him and the team when a ground ball to second for an out advancing the runner to third and then a fly ball can result in a run. The pitcher and the team was essentially defensively effective, but could lose the game.

This rule is MLB being lazy and coming up with a dumb solution just to shorten games and appeal to younger fans with limited attention spans. It’s like MLB took a page out of the NHL rule book with hockey’s overtime shootout to decide tie games. That adjustment has been horrible for hockey and its fans.

Now what are the ways to speed up baseball games significantly?

Change # 1 – Enforce rule 5.07 (c) of the Major League Baseball rule book which 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.

Did you realize rule 6.02a (8) says:

If there is a runner, or runners, it is a balk when: The pitcher unnecessarily delays the game;

Have you ever seen that enforced? I haven’t. But I’ve seen pitchers call the catcher to the mound six separate times for one batter or take over 30 seconds between each and every pitch.

I’ve noticed and counted the time between pitches in many games. Most pitchers take between 22 -27 seconds to throw a pitch after receiving the ball back from the catcher. Some pitchers are agonizingly slow, like the Dodgers Pedro Baez (over 30 seconds between pitches) and Kenley Jansen (27 seconds between pitches). There are many hurlers who can transform their own fielders into a trance-like state with all that inactivity.

There’s no excuse for this. Watch R.A. Dickey or Mark Buehrle pitch and the game moves at a brisk pace. Unfortunately they are the exceptions. Most pitchers take wayyyyy too long between pitches. Put up a pitch clock and give the pitchers a little leeway- 15 seconds and have them throw the pitch or call it a ball. Figure saving at least 5  seconds per pitch with 260 total pitches being thrown. total time shortened per game: minimum 26 minutes
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Alvin Dark Slides Home Safely At The Polo Grounds – 1950

Al Dark – Giant Star And Religious Man

Andy Seminick Al Dark May 27 1950

Dark Deed

New York: Alvin Dark of the Giants plows home safely from third in the eighth inning of the game with the Phillies at the Polo Grounds May 27. Action came in Don Mueller’s grounder to Eddie Waitkus at first. Eddie ran in for the ball and threw to catcher Andy Seminick in an attempt to nail Dark, but the throw was late. Umpire is Al Barlick. Phillies won, 8-5. credit: (Acme) 5-27-50

(UPDATE 11/13/2014 – Alvin Dark dies of natural causes at age 92)

Al Dark is 92 and living in Easley, South Carolina. He is at peace with his life and can look back on a very successful fourteen year playing career in which Dark compiled a .289 career batting average, had over 2,000 hits and was a three time all-star.

Alvin Dark in 2012 ERIK S. LESSER FOR SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Alvin Dark at home in Easley, SC in a 2012 photo: Erik S. Lesser for the San Francisco Chronicle

Dark said in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle on the eve of his 90th birthday, “I never drank, never smoked, never chewed, never anything like that. It was all against my sports upbringing. I feel very fortunate. And very happy. God blessed me.”

After his playing career ended in 1960 at the age of 38, Dark managed four teams over the course of 13 seasons winning the pennant in 1962 with the Giants and the World Series with the Oakland Athletics in 1974. Athletics owner Charlie Finley dumped Dark after the 1975 season when the team went 98-64, but the Athletics were swept in three games by the Red Sox in the divisional playoffs. Finley had previously fired Dark in 1967 with the Kansas City Athletics.

According to sportswriter Harold Parrott, Finley fired or technically “did not rehire” Dark, not for losing the playoffs in 1975 but for something Dark said at a prayer meeting!

Dark recounted what he said in the prayer meeting in his autobiography When in Doubt, Fire the Manager: My Life and Times in Baseball, “You know — and I’m saying this with respect — Charlie Finley feels he is a fantastic big person in the game of baseball. And he is. He has accomplished things, and I give him credit for building up the ball club. But to God, Charlie Finley is just a very little bitty thing that’s lost, and if he doesn’t accept Jesus Christ as his personal savior he’s going to Hell.”

Shortly after he was fired Dark claimed he held no grudges against Finley and delivered a sermon at a church in Louisville saying, “I really care for Charlie Finley, my family and I pray for him; in fact we have Christians all over America praying for him.”

When later asked by a reporter, “Would you ever work for Charlie Finley again?”

Dark said, “If I thought that was what the Lord wanted, certainly.”