New pace-of-game rules miss the mark

Why baseball needs a pitch-clock

By Bill Grimes – Chicago, IL • March 4, 2015

Major League Baseball's new rules to speed up the pace-of-the-game are well intentioned, but won’t solve the game’s biggest problem. It’s not the length of the games, it’s the length of time between pitches that is hurting the sport.

Baseball is a great game. Its action is unparalleled. Unfortunately, you don’t know when it’s going to occur. Whatever pace established is brought to a grinding halt waiting for a pitch. It could be 20, 30, 40, 50 seconds, even a minute. Who knows? If something isn’t done to reduce the time between pitches baseball risks becoming irrelevant to all but a dwindling core of obsessed fans (of which I count myself).

New rules miss the mark. Promptly resuming play after shorter commercial breaks and keeping managers in the dugout during replay challenges have nothing to do with incessant delays between pitches. It’s questionable requiring hitters to keep one foot in the batter’s box throughout an at-bat will work. It sounds arbitrary, pitchers are not being asked to do anything different, and marquee players like David Ortiz may just ignore it, “I’m gonna do what I normally do.”

It’s time for a pitch-clock short enough to change pitchers and hitters’ behavior. It’s doubtful the 20-second pitch-clock tried in the Arizona Fall League last year measurably changed anyone’s routine. Cincinnati Reds prospect Jesse Winker told the Cincinnati Enquirer, "I figured it's 20 seconds, I'm not going to get out of my routine, I'm back in the box before the 20 seconds is up anyway... it ended up not being that big of a deal at all."

It needs to be a big deal.

Major League Baseball should start testing a 12-second pitch-clock now, whether there are runners on base or not. The pitcher has 12-seconds to throw the ball somewhere. If the pitcher’s not ready it’s an automatic ball. If the batter’s not ready it’s an automatic strike. Twelve seconds may be too long, but something drastic has to be done because the deliberate pace of the game is hurting attendance, and forcing those watching at home to grab the remote.

In the spring, baseball often plays 2nd, 3rd, 4th fiddle to NCAA March Madness and NBA and NHL playoffs. As pennant races heat up baseball faces stiff competition from college and pro football. Baseball teams in tight divisional races play before thousands of empty seats. Some television audiences are downright embarrassing. Jonathan Mahler made reference in The New York Times in September 2013 of a Houston Astros game that got a .04 Nielsen rating. That’s about 1,000 viewers.

No one can compete with the Super Bowl, but baseball has trouble competing with NFL preseason games. According to SportingNews.com the NFL’s Hall of Fame game in 2014 had better ratings than the 2013 MLB postseason, except for the World Series. Let that sink in for a moment. An NFL exhibition game had higher ratings than the major league baseball playoffs?

The problem is baseball has become dominated by inaction. Last August 24th I timed a routine at-bat in a game between the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Oakland A’s. It was a 10-pitch at-bat. The Angels Kole Calhoun was facing the A’s Fernando Abad. Calhoun eventually struck out swinging. Here are the times between each pitch:

1 & 2   21 sec
2 & 3   25 sec
3 & 4   27 sec
4 & 5   25 sec
5 & 6   35 sec
6 & 7   50 sec
7 & 8   34 sec
8 & 9   32 sec
9 & 10 60 sec

That at-bat lasted 5½ minutes. Subtracting the time between pitches left 20 seconds of action (I use the term loosely since the ball was not put in play and there was no one on base for the pitcher to worry about). That means for an alarming 94% of that at-bat – nothing happened! No pitch, no swing, no foul ball – nothing – except the pitcher and the batter doing myriad uninteresting things and everyone else... waiting. It’s difficult to keep a 39-year old fan engaged, let alone a 9-year old. A pitch-clock would have shaved a couple minutes, or more, off that at-bat.

The charm of the game will not disappear. There will still be no limit to the number of pitches in an at-bat, the length of an inning or the length of a game.

The inaction cannot be eliminated, but it can be condensed. It’s masking a great sport! There's running, hitting, throwing, home runs, singles, doubles, triples, diving into the stands to catch a foul ball or rob the hitter of a home run, infielders flying through the air to finish a double play, stealing, bunting, hit and run, and on and on and on.

The flow of the game is unlike that of any other sport. The ball is often hundreds of feet from where a score is made. This means the spectator must dart his/her eyes back and forth between where the ball is, and as many as four base runners trying to reach home. These are the actions that should dominate our great game, not a hitter tightening his batting gloves for the 6th time in an at-bat.

All sports have inaction, but in other sports, such as football, a clock forces action to occur by a specific time. The fan knows it’s coming. It may be 3-yards and a cloud of pulverized rubber, but it is coming. Baseball’s inaction is unregulated.

Baseball is all about consistency and tradition, but the sport has changed over the years. The pitcher’s mound and the strike zone have been raised and lowered several times. The designated hitter (DH) was established in the American League in the early 1970’s. Most fans are not aware that until the 1930’s a fair ball that reached the stands on one bounce was a home run. A batted ball that curved from fair to foul territory after it left the playing field was a foul ball. You have to go back to the 1800’s but there was a time when a base-on-balls required 9 pitches out of the strike zone.

The point is changes have been made from time to time to improve the game. Another change is required. It’s time.

Bill Grimes is a former journalist who publishes www.todayinbaseball.com. He is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). He can be reached at bgrimes23@gmail.com or 708-217-2567.



Today in baseball history - March 6 - Kirby Puckett gone

Gone too soon 


PHOENIX, ARIZONA | MARCH 6, 2006
 - Kirby Puckett always tried to look on the bright side, which would have helped his family, friends and fans when he died on this date in 2006. The former Minnesota Twins outfielder and member of the Hall of Fame suffered a massive brain hemorrhage the previous day, and died after surgery to relieve the pressure.

Puckett probably would have said something like, "It was a short life (45 years), but a fulfilling one." This is what Puckett (5' 8" 210 lbs) actually did say when he was forced to retire in 1996 after waking up one morning blind in one eye, "I was told I would never make it because I'm too short. Well, I'm still too short, but I've got 10 All-Star Games, two World Series championships, and I'm a very happy and contented guy. It doesn't matter what your height is, it's what's in your heart."

Kirby Puckett was born in Chicago and raised in the Robert Taylor Homes, at the time, the largest public housing project in the country and one of the most notorious; infested with drugs, gangs and crime. But Kirby make it out, attending Bradley University for a short time where he was an all-conference outfielder as a freshman. He transferred to Triton Junior College outside Chicago and was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 1982 draft, after his hometown Cubs passed him up. He finished his 12-year career with a lifetime .318 average, and despite a shortened career finished with over 2,000 hits and 1,000 RBI's.

Puckett's pristine, community-conscious image took a turn for the worse after he was forced to retire. His former wife accused him of threatening her, and he was accused (and acquitted) of groping a woman in a Twin Cities restaurant. As time went on he gained a tremendous amount of weight, ballooning to well over 300 lbs, which likely lead to his hypertension and contributed to his death.

Contributing sources:
Kirby Puckett - Baseball-Almanac
1982 Amateur Draft - mlb.com

This daily dose of baseball history is brought to you by TODAY in BASEBALL.


Today in baseball history - March 5 - Yankee pitchers swap wives

You can't make this stuff up

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA | MARCH 5, 1973 - New York Yankee pitchers Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich dropped a bombshell on spring training camp on this date in 1973. They announced to the world that they had swapped wives... and kids and a poodle and a terrier. "It wasn't a wife swap," they said, "It's a life swap." America had lived through the turbulent, permissive 1960's, but this was a shock on so many levels, not the least of which was that the swap was announced to the world.

Just like in baseball; you win some, you lose some and some get rained out.

Peterson and Kekich had been close friends for years, and said there was nothing sordid about the "affair." They and their wives began discussing the switch the previous summer and put it in affect in October, 1972.

Fritz Peterson was still living with Susanne Kekich and her two daughters, aged 4 and 2, at the time of the press conference, but Mike Kekich and Marilyn Peterson's relationship had already gone south. Their living arrangement with her two sons, aged 5 and 2, had been on-again/off-again. It also became apparent that the two left-handers had had a falling out over one affair working and the other not. Murray Chass wrote in the next day's New York Times that, "...it was obvious they had bitter feelings toward each other."

Fritz Peterson and the former Susanne Kekich eventually married and had four children of their own. The last that was heard they were still married and living outside Chicago. Peterson attended a Yankees charity event in Fort Lauderdale in January of 2013. The Mike Kekich and Marilyn Peterson affair was over before it started. Kekich eventually remarried and at last report was living in New Mexico.

Both achieved some success on the mound, but neither saw their careers flourish after the swap. Kekich finished his 12 year major league career with a 39-51 record. Peterson had career record of 133-131 over an 11 year career. He also did better on the domestic front.

Contributing sources:
The New York Times, March 6, 1973, pages 51-52, by Murray Chass

The New York Times, September 9, 2009, Fritz Peterson writes a book
Washington Times, March 7, 2005 
The Palm Beach Post, January 26, 2013   
Jackson, MS Clarion Ledger
, by Rick Cleveland, August 29, 2000

This baseball history story about Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich is brought to you by Today in Baseball.


Today in baseball history - March 4 - The father of Japanese baseball

The Father of Japanese baseball

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA | MARCH 4, 1927 - Horace Wilson died on this date in 1927 at his home in San Francisco. Who was Horace Wilson? He was the father of Japanese baseball.

Here's the story:

Baseball hasn't existed in Japan as long as it has in the United States, but our national pastime has been part of Japanese culture for over 130 years? According to Japanese baseball officials, the game was brought to the Land of the Rising Sun in the 1870's by Horace Wilson, a Tokyo University English Professor from the United States.

Wilson was born on a Gorham, Maine farm in 1843. After the Civil War he headed west to California and later to Japan. One day in 1872 (or 1873, depending who's telling the story) he decided his students at the First Higher School of Tokyo, now known as Tokyo University, needed some recreation. He got their blood pumping with a bat and ball, and taught them the game of baseball, which he probably learned during the Civil War.

According to Steve Solloway of the Portland, (Maine) PressHerald, a game was organized a few weeks later between the Japanese players and a group of foreigners, one of whom was Horace Wilson. The foreigners won 34-11 and a Japanese pastime was born.

Contributing sources:
Japan Baseball Daily
Portland PressHerald, May 20, 2007, by Steve Solloway 
Horace Wilson 
More on Baseball in Japan

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Today in baseball history - Feb 25 - Work stoppage ends

Wrong kind of "strike"

NEW YORK, NEW YORK | FEBRUARY 25, 1973 -  Major League Baseball goes through phases where "strikes" seem to out-number "balls," and we're not talking about what the homeplate umpire barks out after a pitch is thrown. According to Sports Illustrated, since 1972 there have been eight work stoppages, including the year we're focusing on - 1973.

The news was good on this date. The players' union and team owners announced a new three year agreement ending a lockout by the owners at the start of spring training.

The 1973 agreement instituted what has become as common as the hit & run - arbitration. After so many years in the league a player who couldn't agree on a salary with his team could take the issue to arbitration.

Considering what happened a year earlier, a strike right at the start of the regular season, everyone was relieved. Players and owners alike knew fans were becoming disenchanted, or worse, indifferent, to the annual spring labor rituals.

Baseball didn't learn however, there were work stoppages in 1980, 1981, 1985, 1990 and a devastating strike in 1994-95 that wiped out the entire post-season including the World Series.

Contributing sources:
Herschel Nissenson, Associated Press (AP), The Gettysburg Times, February 26, 1973
Sports Illustrated, May 25, 2002

This baseball history story about work stoppages is brought to you by TODAY in BASEBALL.


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