I used to love baseball, but I stopped watching when games got slower than sloth races. Last year, the average game was 3 hours and 3 minutes. No, thank you. I have Christmas plans.
Already, in spring training, games are finishing in 2 hours and 36 minutes. That’s nearly a week and a half faster than your average Yankees-Red Sox game last year. If there had been a pitch clock earlier in my sports-writing career, I’d be 37 right now.
Once they get the ball, pitchers have 15 seconds to go into their windup (20 when there are base runners). If not, the ump calls a ball. Hitters have to be in the box and looking at the pitcher with eight seconds left on the pitch clock. If they’re not, the ump calls a strike.
Hallelujah! Take Me Out to the Ballgame and We’ll All Still Be Home In Time for Colbert!
It’s a miracle. Parents aren’t lugging sleeping fourth-graders back to the car anymore. Fans can’t get to the restroom and back between Yu Darvish pitches. Your dad won’t be out cold in the La-Z-Boy in front of every Orioles game now.
Do you know how much of my life has been wasted waiting for some guy while he steps out of the box, re-Velcros his gloves, readjusts his sweat bands, resettles his helmet and kicks imaginary dirt off his cleats after watching a ball go by? I lost a good year and a half to Nomar Garciaparra alone.
Just think of it. The way it’s looking, the average Major League Baseball game will be about 30 minutes faster than last year. If you figure about 30 spring games, 162 regular season games, and, say, 15 playoff games, that’s about 103 hours of lifesuck that we’ll all save.
“If we’d had a pitch clock my entire career,” Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts told me Sunday, “I might have learned how to play the violin by now.”
Baseball is not fooling around. In the first inning of the first San Diego spring game this season, 2022’s National League MVP runner-up, the Padres’ Manny Machado, was still tapping the corner of the plate, head down, meditating on the meaning of batter’s box dirt when the clock hit :08 and the ump jumped out behind the catcher and called a strike. Baseball history was thus carved: the first strike call without a ball being thrown.
We’re going to need a new score book symbol:
K — struck out swinging
Backward K — struck out looking
K lying on its back — struck out daydreaming
Machado, it should be noted, kept one foot in the box the rest of the at-bat and wound up ripping a single to left. As he rounded first, you could see a new world dawning on him.
Wait. You mean I don’t have to fidget and fuss and click my heels three times before every pitch to get a hit? What have I been doing with my life?
Umps want to get to dinner too, so they’re all over this. The Atlanta Braves thought they’d won a game on a two-out, ninth-inning walk-off walk the other day only to find out the ump had nailed their hitter for a clock violation for strike three. End of game; beginning of era.
These people thought of everything. Hitters get only one timeout during an at-bat now, so no more prima donnas holding a hand up, asking for time while they dig to China. The clock also means the pitcher can’t shake off more pitches than Taylor Swift.
Oh, you hit a big dinger and want a curtain call? Make it quick, Hollywood — there’s also a 30-second max between batters.
And that’s not the only way Baseball’s Thrill Meter is finally jolting. Pitchers can’t throw endless pickoffs to first base anymore. You get two per batter. The third, you better get the runner out or it’s a free base. That means if you’re on first and the pitcher is out of pickoffs, it’s an invitation to steal.
Or an even bigger invitation: The bases are bigger, jumping from 15 inches by 15 inches to 18 by 18 — forthwith known as the pizza box — which means the distance between them is shorter. Base stealing is going to skyrocket.
“I think, as a player, I’d have stolen 30 percent more bases with these rules,” Roberts said. “And I think I’d have added another comma to my net worth.”
God knows why so many players were against all this. For an average salary of $4.4 million, they’ll just have to cope, I guess.
And … and! … baseball has now killed The Shift, the place where hits go to die. On a pulling left-hander, say, managers can no longer turn the right side of the infield into Gate 57A at JFK.
No more shift? More hits. Pizza boxes closer together? More runs. Pitchers having to fire faster, meaning they’ll run out of gas sooner? More hits, more home runs, more laughs. Fewer beer-cup snakes in left field, fewer people doing the Wordle in center and fewer halfhearted waves drowning in right.
I never thought I’d say this again, but …
Isn’t baseball fun?