The headline was published around noon E.S.T. Monday: MLB Implements New Pace of Play Rules.
Ohhhh boiiiiii, you probably said, here we go!!!!!!! Time for some d r a m a, time for some controversy right as the Free Agent Freeze story is winding down, time for some more Player’s Association showdowns.
Cracking your knuckles and stretching your neck, you click on the article, ready for Manfred’s latest attempt at How To Make Baseball Fun Again.
- Teams will be limited to six mound visits (which do not count as pitchers communicating with catchers from the mound on their own or talking to a catcher after covering a play at home plate) per nine innings, with one new visit awarded for every extra inning.
- New timers for breaks in between innings and pitching changes will be implemented (2:05 local, 2:25 national, 2:55 postseason/tie breaker), with the timers beginning on last out of the game or when new pitcher crosses the warning track.
- Slo-mo cams will be installed in all replay rooms.
If you were waiting for more innovative new rules; if you were waiting for controversy; if you were waiting for Manfred to finally make a statement about how far he is actually going to take changing the game of baseball to appeal to new fan bases; you’re just going to have to wait until next season.
The Commissioner’s Office and Player’s Association have decided to allow players to “adjust” to these “sweeping” new rules before entertaining more controversial–and, lets face it, more effective–pace of play rules.
Frankly, the long-anticipated announcement that yielded flimsy, boring new pace of play rules illustrates the exact problem MLB has with retaining audiences and competing with other leagues in the first place: MLB continuously fails to capitalize on opportunities to market its game in such a way that previously uninterested parties will actually be drawn to.
The announcement of new rules geared at increasing the pace of play is, in it of itself, a tool that Manfred could have used to attract new fans. Announcing highly controversial, sweeping changes this season would in it of itself encourage non-baseball fans to at least watch the beginning of the season out of morbid curiosity and hopefully catch some interest from there. But MLB largely failed at this endeavor.
Take rule 3 for example: making an announcement that all replay rooms will have slo-mo in order to decrease the calls for reviews is like making an announcement to your roommates that you have decided you will finally wash your dishes within a day of using them. Important and laudable, sure–but at this day and age, shouldn’t this new rule have been implemented already?
And what’s more, if it hasn’t, why embarrass yourself and draw attention to the fact that it hasn’t been?
Many sports writers, such as Chicago Tribune’s Paul Sullivan, were shocked that slo-mo cams didn’t already exist in replay rooms to begin with. I must admit that I, too had this mistaken assumption.
I will admit that new timers between breaks and a limited number of mound visits will inevitably change at least some strategy on the field, such as new signs to communicate strategy that would normally be communicated through a mound visit or fewer warm-up pitches on the field. It is only fair that players should not be bombarded with radical changes such as a pitch clock or runners on second base for extra innings all at once.
But if the goal is to really change the game in order to fit an audience’s demands, if MLB has really decided to make changes to the game for the sole purpose of increasing ratings while discarding the wishes of the players, MLB should commit. There is no point in culminating a fierce off-season debate by announcing pace of play rules that won’t ignite debates fierce enough to draw non-fans to the game, and that will consequently irritate and inconvenience players for no reason.
If MLB’s hands are tied with the demands of the Player’s Association, they should listen to the players and not completely alter the game for the demands of fans who have no real investment in baseball. They should focus on more effectively marketing the game they have rather than trying to change a game that is fiercely resisting artificial change.
Once again, MLB had the opportunity to make a clear choice about whether to really listen to the players or deliver some real drama to a new group of fans. And once again, the sheepish MLB fell monstrously short.