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A word of caution about the pitch clock

Could games go TOO fast with a clock?

Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

As usual, last Tuesday night, I was prioritizing Cubs minor league games. They started at a bit after 5 p.m. CT, with Triple-A Iowa playing in Louisville. The three other games commenced at 6 p.m CT. All the games were over by 8:30, and only one game even approached going 2:30. That game included a seven-run first inning. Quicker games: What could possibly go wrong, amirite? This is an article providing a bit of a warning about the pitch clock.

Over the offseason, I took the chance to listen to some vintage games, including a few Minnesota Twins games from the late 1960s and early 1970s. In one of those games, the announcer (I don’t remember who it was), was mentioning the way soon-to-be-inducted Hall of Famer Tony Oliva took his at-bats. In effect, Oliva would rototill the left-handed batters box, then “dig a trench” for his feet. Oliva is not the only player in MLB history to use this method. When I mention trench-builders, you might have a specific MLB’er in mind. I don’t think “trench building” ought to be the reason for a pitch clock.

A bit more recently in my memory banks, Mike Hargrove and Eddie Murray began a rather evil trend. Both hitters would regularly request time after every pitch. Once it was granted, they would reconnoiter everything in between every pitch. Eventually, this became de rigueur for many players. Nomar Garciaparra comes to mind. So does David Ortiz. Now, a goal for many hitters seems to be building a trench after every pitch. Which, when paired with vulgar use of running up pitch counts” extends the lengths of games.

Which is where we are now.

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MLB game length is possibly a deterrent to adding certain people to becoming baseball fans. However, most of the time, people don’t like baseball because they don’t like baseball. Whether it’s a 3:40 game or a 2:40 game, a non-fan won’t be converted because the game lasts an hour less. One of the things I remember enjoying, back in the day, was Cubs announcers mentioning that “Lewis Montgomery is here with his family today. The Montgomerys are from Hinsdale, and their party has four generation of Cubs fans,” or whatever.

If the goal is to speed games up, the pitch clock has done that in minor league ball. However, it’s threatening to entirely alter the “feel” of the game. The feel of the game, for me, is a large part of the attraction of baseball. Few things encourage naps better than a competent announcer casually walking me through a ballgame. If there are key at-bats? I’m awake. If it’s 12-up 12-down through the third and fourth innings? I get a bit of sleep. Win/Win.

Going back to trench-builders, does the pitch clock change baseball assessment? Baseball assessment is how teams turn draft choices to longer-term assets. If players in college baseball are going to trench-build, but the pitch clock in pro ball (college ball’s pitch clock is less onerous) limits it, are teams are going to be less able to assess what is going to be going on at the MLB level.

Of course, the current minor league clock might not be the future MLB clock. The clock has definitely sped proceedings. Sometimes, games seem like that scene in a California-based drama where the automobile is heading down the road on a hill after its brake lines have been sliced. Slowing down isn’t a realistic option with an 18- and 14-second pitch clock. Realistically, it gets so fast that it’s similar to softball with the hitter walking in with a 1-1 count. You might prefer the quicker tempo or not, but the game is entirely different.

Triple-A Iowa Cubs announcer Alex Cohen was unable to get in his fifth inning trivia question in that night, as the game was moving too quickly. If there are going to be fewer than 20 seconds between pitches, how are the Chicago Cubs announcers going to get in all of their advertisements on-air?

I like games moving quicker. Having 45 seconds between pitches because the pitcher (or hitter) shuts down baseball between each pitch is problematic. I’m entirely good with a pitch clock, but if a quick-working pitcher is able to quick-pitch his way through a line-up through five or six innings, I’m not sold on that being especially good baseball, either.

I’m still up in the air. Pace of play has slowed to an unacceptable level. Trimming the timing between pitches is a solution, but I don’t trust Rob Manfred to come up with the proper decision. One thing I do support wholeheartedly is the umpires limiting the pitcher/hitter to one “time out” per at-bat. The game speeds up, but the car retains its braking ability.