Major League Baseball has put an emphasis on speeding up the pace of games for quite some time. At the start of this season, the issue was brought to the forefront more than ever
when heralded umpire Joe West (pictured) criticized the Yankees and Red Sox for the pace in which they went about their games, calling them “a disgrace to baseball.”
Obviously, though, this is about more than just the Yankees and Red Sox.
In researching for a story about the larger scope of the pace-of-games issue, I had the pleasure of interviewing noted journalist George Will, who was named part of MLB Commissioner Bud Selig’s 14-member committee to review on-field issues in December. Will is a Pulitzer Prize winner who has written two best-selling books on baseball. He’s currently employed by ABC and The Washington Post, and he had some great insight on this topic.
For the record, Will was talking more about his personal opinions, and he was not speaking for the committee in any way. Here’s what he had to say …
In your communication with Selig, how big of an issue is the current pace of games with him?
I think the Commissioner has long been concerned about the pace of the game, and he’s been particularly concerned to emphasis that it’s not the length of the game, but the pace of the game. That is, baseball fans don’t mind a two-hour and 52-minute game — which was the average last year — as long as the pace of the game is better. The games have become longer, in part because of good baseball. The running game has made a bit of a comeback, there’s more throwing over to first base, teams — led, I guess, first by the Yankees — understood that batters going deeper into the count will wear down the starting pitcher and get into the other team’s middle relief sooner. These are all good baseball reasons, but there are also other reasons. Particularly, too much time between pitches, which is sometimes a fault of the pitcher and sometimes a fault of the batters stepping out of the batter’s box.
What can be done to improve that?
Change the mannerisms. Change the culture of baseball. It tends to trickle down. These mannerisms tend to trickle down all the way to Little League. And I think if players, if managers, communicate to their players that this is happening and it’s not necessary, it would help. Most pitchers know that the defense behind them is going to be better if they pitch quickly. And batters, it seems to me, have to wonder if they really are better at the plate when they’re sort of interrupting the rhythm of the game.
I would assume, then, that if you’re going to attempt to change the culture, it’s going to take a while before we actually see some change, right?
You’re quite right. Already, umpires have the power to call, I think, a strike on the batter if the batter doesn’t take his position in a timely manner. But that’s a judgment call, the umpires have quite enough on their plate without adding this to their duties. And I think we’d all like to see some way to address this without resorting to that particular provision.
Can you ever see an actual rule being put in place to speed up the pace of games?
Not at the moment. I think we’d all like to do it by, as you say, changing the culture.
How would the League weigh the possible expansion of instant replay with trying to speed up the pace of games?
Some people say that on some instant-replay calls, you might speed the game up, because instead of having a protracted argument on the field, the umpires just check the replay and see what happens. … But just speaking for myself, I’m very reluctant to expand instant replay beyond boundary calls. You can add fair or foul with regards to that Yankees-Twins call in the playoffs last year, down the left-field line, but beyond that, I think instant replay should be limited.
Would you say speeding up the pace of games is more of an issue this year than it ever has?
No, I think it’s about where it has been for some while. It’s on the agenda, it’s on people’s minds, and measures are being considered.
Here are some numbers on the average times of nine-inning games per decade, courtesy of the Elias Sports Bureau:
* 1970s – 2:30
* 1980s – 2:33
* 1990s – 2:47
* 2000s – 2:57
* 2010 – 2:54 (from April 19)
Look for a more in-depth story on the pace-of-game issue in MLB later this week on the MLB.com homepage
– Alden Gonzalez
(One more shameless plug here: If you get the time, check out this story
on Nate Winters, a high-school pitcher in Central Florida who has only one leg. We don’t often do stories on non-MLB players, but this was a special case. He’s the bravest kid I know.)