A flurry of proposed rule changes has the Washington Nationals and Major League Baseball speed up play. Should they? Of course.
Over the next few years, the Washington Nationals, along with everyone else in Major League Baseball, may play under time-constraint rules unheard of a generation ago.
From no-pitch intentional walks to starting innings with a runner on second, MLB is experimenting how to contain a game with almost 200 years of no time limits. How they address the problem will create waves for the next century.
By starting the 12th inning of Rookie League games with a runner on second, they are making a start. Now, there is no way you will ever see it happen in an MLB game. Although five-hour extra-inning bullpen affairs are excruciating in April, Rob Manfred and the 30 MLB owners cannot mess too much with tradition.
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But, they need to do something.
The glacial pace of play does more than turn off the so-called “millennial” fans. If it takes nearly four hours to play a 2-1, nine-inning game, we have a problem. Drama and strategy are not boring. Watching endless commercials during pitching changes or waiting for a full minute or two to see if Dusty Baker wants to challenge a play at second is.
Thankfully, there is debate to limit those review decisions to 30 seconds. Still, it should not take 3:45 to play 12 minutes of action, the average time it takes for everything to happen.
Now, television is a key reason the pace slows to a crawl. As with all major sports, the revenue generated by TV carries the freight and pays salaries. In return, we are treated to loads and loads of advertisements. From teeth-whiteners to cold adult beverages, we are pitched to as much as Bryce Harper on any given night.
Any serious attempt to shorten games back to a more reasonable pace starts with them. Run little ads between pitches. Have the fourth inning sponsored exclusively by a fast food joint and plaster the logo everywhere. There must be something that can be done to knock ten minutes of commercials a game without losing money.
Yet, the problem is more complex. Pitching changes, batters not staying put or nibbling starters who walk hitters and then hold the ball for a minute between deliveries are the problem.
This is not 1930 anymore, our timeless pastime is not truly timeless.
By curbing dead ball stoppages and training players in the minors, game times can go down without feeling as if we are rushed. The endless dearth of games did not happen overnight. It will not end that way either.
For everyone’s best interests, television, MLB and the players must work together.