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About The Pace Of Major League Baseball Games

All big-league parks have signs like these posted... but these rules appear to be widely ignored.

Al Yellon

Friday afternoon, the Cubs hosted season-ticket holders for "Family Day," which they have done every year for the last few years. Mostly, it's for kids, as they have play areas on the field and there were quite a few families with young children running around and having a good time.

The team also opened up pretty much the entire ballpark for exploration, including the press box, and that's what prompted me to write this post. I've been at these events before and had not seen signs like these before -- they appear to be new this year. There were a number of signs in the press box regarding procedures for the official scorer, cellphone use and other things, but the ones titled "PACE OF GAME PROCEDURES" were the ones that most interested me. One -- the one you see above (and if you can't read it, click here for a larger version) -- was in the bullpen, in both English and Spanish, and the other in the press box.

The bullpen sign doesn't really tell us anything we don't already know. The two-minute, 25-second break for relievers to come in and warm up is exactly the same length as a between-inning break, long enough for a TV channel to break for a few ads if they so choose. Even so, the sign warns pitchers to be prompt in getting from the pen to the mound and completing warmup throws. I don't think we've seen any real delays in this kind of thing.

The sign in the press box -- again, click here to open it in a new window or tab -- is the one that's widely flouted and in my view, causing games to become much longer. The first two points, I'll reproduce here, because I think these are the keys to making games faster-paced:

  • Umpires will not grant time for batters to step out of the box if doing so would unnecessarily delay the game. When given permission to leave the batter's box under Rule 6.02, batters may not step more than 3 feet from the batter's box.
  • Rule 8.04 requires that the pitcher, when the bases are unoccupied, deliver a pitch within 12 seconds when the batter is in the batter's box and is set to hit. If the pitcher does not deliver a pitch within 12 seconds, the umpire has the authority to call a ball.

I think you can see that the first of these can lead to the second. If batters are allowed to meander around the dirt, futzing around with their batting gloves, then pitchers can't deliver the ball within 12 seconds. It would seem to me that umpires need to be more proactive in requiring hitters to stay in the box. The point about "unnecessarily" delaying the game is a salient one -- most of what modern hitters do when they step out is, in my view, unnecessary. Go watch any game from 30 or 40 years ago, and you won't see hitters doing all the various gyrations they do between pitches. The pitcher throws, if the ball isn't fouled off or put in play, the hitter stands in and is ready for the next pitch.

That isn't happening today and I think umpires have to start enforcing both of these procedures more stringently. If that means installing a 12-second clock, so be it; if not, let the umpires make it clear to hitters and pitchers that they need to start speeding things up.

It's one thing to have long games because of lots of hitting, or even more walks, because that can create more action and thus more scoring. It's quite another to have games drag on and on and on because hitters have to touch their helmets a dozen times or mess with their batting gloves or kick dirt off their spikes.

Anyway, I thought you'd like to know that these procedures are prominently posted at Wrigley Field, and presumably, at other big-league stadiums. The one in the press box should be in the dugout, too.