With the MLB and MLBPA finding it difficult to engage in substantive, productive conversations with each other, Commissioner Rob Manfred was poised to enact rule changes unilaterally in an effort to advance his ill-defined pace-of-play goals.
In his three years in office, Manfred already has made changes in this area, including a reduction in the time of the between-inning breaks and an informal request for hitters to remain in the batter’s box between pitches. More fundamentally, one year ago, he made what I still believe to be “the most significant change to the sport since 1879” when he eliminated the four-pitch intentional walk, an alleged pace-of-play reform he later conceded was merely “symbolic.”
Rumored to be chief among those new, unilateral rule changes for 2018 was the institution of a pitch clock, which the upper levels of the minor leagues have been using since 2015. While a less-fundamental change to the game than the intentional-walk rule, in my estimation, a pitch clock in the majors likely would have drawn a louder critical outcry from fans.
Thankfully, we’ve learned today, a pitch clock will not be a part of the game in 2018. Instead, Manfred has made what I think are very good choices, as first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser:
In case those tweets are hard to read or disappear, that’s a cap on mound visits per nine innings at six (with limited exceptions for extra innings and other defined situations in the umpire’s discretion) and a reduction in inning breaks during the regular season to 2:05 (with scaled expansions for postseason games).
By further (although it’s unclear by how much) reducing the between-inning commercial breaks and limiting mound visits, Manfred tracked two important reform guidelines: a) avoid changes in the on-field game and b) keep the focus on the players. There’s plenty of time in a baseball game for pitcher coaching and coordinating, and I have no problem putting more pressure on pitchers (who, collectively, now are enjoying probably their greatest advantage relative to hitters in the game’s history) to work out struggles on their own.
More than anything, though, I’m glad that baseball, at least at the top level, remains an area of life not dictated by a clock, a space where anything is possible so long as you’re alive.