Thursday, January 15, 2015

Bring On Pitch Clocks In Baseball

There is no mistaking the fact that the major leaguebaseball games have become increasingly longer over the last few decades, with a serious uptick coming in recent years.  The reasons are legion, from the greater number of pitching changes to pitchers who dawdle on the mound to batters who insist on stepping out of the box or adjusting their equipment endlessly before stepping in to bat.  This state of affairs has increased the oft heard sentiment that baseball is much too slow, especially when compared to sports like football and basketball.

This is especially interesting in light of the fact that early observers of baseball in the 19th century constantly commented on the game’s speed and fast pace.  Contrary to popular belief, baseball is not a rural game, but the product of the explosive growth of American cities in the industrial era.  Alexander Cartwright, who formalized the first version of baseball’s modern rules, hailed from New York City and played his games in Hoboken.  You might think that those hailing baseball’s speed might just be reflecting the fact that life in general moved a who lot slower back then, and the fact that other, faster paced games were less popular.  To the contrary, I think the game was played differently back then, and baseball played with urgency is truly thrilling.  I got a glimpse of it when I used to watch Buehrle pitch for the White Sox.  He worked very fast, spending little time holding the ball.  I cherished his game in each series, since it would be shorter and much more intense.

Today brings the news that baseball is expanding the use of a twenty second pitching clock in the minor leagues, along with other measures meant to decrease delays, such as no-pitch intentional walks and keeping batters in the box.  This makes me wonder if we will be seeing these changes coming at the major league level.  I certainly hope so, despite the fact that the players' union could easily scuttle them.

One objection to all this, and one that I am sympathetic to, is that clocks are antithetical to baseball.  There is indeed something wonderful about the fact that the game is not governed by the clock, one of the few parts of modern life that isn't beholden to almighty time.  As much as that aspect of the game provides its unique character, the abuse of baseball's lack of clocks has gotten completely out of hand.

In any case, defenders of "tradition" ought to realize that the tradition of baseball as a fast-paced game has been sorely neglected in recent years.  To repeat, baseball is not a slow pastoral game, but the arresting product of America's growing cities in the industrial age.  It's about time we bring it back to that.

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