A pitch clock, or any other clock, is a bad idea for baseball

When one of baseball’s most prolific pitchers spoke out against Major League Baseball’s Pace of Game comittee’s initiatives, specifically the pitch clock, on Friday night there was likely a simultaneous sigh of relief among many players and fans alike.

It was a collective sigh of relief that there are others out there, ones who might be able to influence the institution of intiatives like this, who love and cherish the game and who are also adamently against this nonsenical notion that the game of baseball needs to be sped up.

Getty Images.
Getty Images.

The Pace of Game Committee implemented the pitch clock and other intiatives to increase the speed of the game during 2014’s Arizona Fall League. The AFL was also the guinea pig for 2013’s new expanded replay.

To be fair, some of the initiatives do make a some sense such as keeping batters from doing elaborate rituals between each pitch or limiting the time a manager has to decide whether or not to challenge a call on the field. Yet, even when all the proposed changes are added together, along with the pitch clock, these ideas shorten the game all of 10-15 minutes.

Yes, the average length of a ballgame reached an all-time high of three hours and eight minutes in 2014, but as Chicago Cubs’ starting pitcher Jon Lester said on Friday,

“I feel like if you go from a 3-hour game to a 2:50 game, is that really going to make a difference?”

Still though, the question that remains is: does it make sense from a baseball standpoint? Would it take away a big part of the game’s essence?

More fans at ballparks may mean more money and, in ways, increase the popularity of the sport, that while still called “America’s pastime,” is second in popularity to football.

However, Sports Illustrated’s Cliff Corcoran explains the average football game in actuality takes longer overall than the average baseball game. To a casual fan, as Lester asked, will 10-15 minutes really make a difference when they’ve already been at the game for two-plus hours? It’s highly doubtful.

Would make a difference to the majority of the millions of baseball fans who really love the game and it’s history (players and fans)? Speaking as a member of that group, I’d say absolutely. Would it somehow change part of the nature of a game that has been played in vitually the same way for almost 150 years? Absolutely.

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Dallas Braden. Getty Images.

Part of the beauty of the game is that it is truly timeless. It’s timeless in it’s nuances and quiet excitement. Like how the balance of the game is hanging on every single pitch, each single movement or decision.

I was at MLB’s 19th perfect game in Oakland on May 9, 2010. I remember almost silence during the last at-bat between the Tampa Bay Rays’ right fielder Gabe Kapler and the Oakland Athletics’ young starting pitcher Dallas Braden. I was barely watching, I could hear my heart pounding in my head (I’m not even exaggerating) and Kapler kept fouling off the ball.

Every second, everything was hanging on each pitch. The tension was palpable. It had been growing steadily since the sixth inning. I would love to go on but you’ll have to read about my perfect game experience in another post (probably my next post, now that I am thinking about it!).

That’s what I like about baseball, the insane, innate intensity. Home runs are exhilarting, walk-offs even moreso, but when it comes down to that final strike that’s the essence of it all. There’s no rush to it and would those moments be the same if the pitcher were on a clock?

Cocoran writes,

“Baseball is famously, and I thought proudly, the only major North American team sport to be played without a clock. While a pitch clock would not impact a team’s scoring opportunities — as do the game clocks in football, basketball, hockey and soccer — the deleterious impact of a clock on the feel of the game, its natural ebb and flow, the rise and fall in tension and suspense, would seem to me to be far greater than the positive impact on the length of the average game.”

There’s another good reason why clocks are not needed in baseball, it wouldn’t impact the teams scoring. Each team has their own half of an inning to make something happen. It’s fair and balanced. There’s a beautiful natural balance to baseball in that way, from the 90 ft. basepaths to the 60 feet and six inches between the mound and the plate.

Lester explained this from a player’s point of view and it applies to every big baseball fan,

“If you [use a pitch clock] you take the beauty out of the game,” he said Friday night at the Cubs’ fans convention. “There’s such a cat-and-mouse game as far as messing up hitters’ timing, messing up pitchers’ timing. Different things that fans and people that have never played this game don’t understand. I feel like if you do add a clock it just takes all the beauty away from the game. I think you’re going down a path you don’t want to go down.”

It’s path that we shouldn’t go down, a line we shouldn’t cross. In many ways I am baseball purist. I love the A’s but enjoy watching 28 of the other teams play (yes, I do realize there are 30 teams but you know who I am referring to), I love the game as a whole and I especially love it’s long, rich history. I don’t believe changes need to be made.

There are some changes that have been put into effect in the game that I do agree with so many purists would see me as a rebel. Yet I was raised an American League girl, and the idea I believe the designated hitter is absolutely necessary and should be used in the National League, just screams rebellion away from baseball tradition.

However, I don’t like having the Wild Card as part of the postseason which is more of a purist’s point of view. Though I completely believe in expanded replay or replay in general because I’ve seen a lot of bad calls and those need to be turned around. If this idea seems questionable to you then watch this video, from the top of the 9th inning of the Oakland Athletics and Cleveland Indians game at Cleveland’s Progressive Field on May 8, 2013, taken before the use of expanded replay. (This video is brought to you by SportsCity.com)

So I run both ways with what I think is good for the game of baseball and what isn’t. I see pieces of both a purist and progressive perception, but if one thing is abundantly clear it is that baseball does not need and should never have a clock of any kind associated with it except for marking the time of the first pitch and the time of the final out.

There’s something different about making changes that improve the game, and making changes that fundamentally change the game. Replay is somewhat of a necessary evil and the DH position doesn’t necessarily take away the strategy in a game, there’s still plenty to be used, but it lengthens careers.

We would not have seen the greatness of Edgar Martinez, who would have been out of the game after five seasons had it not been for the designated hitter role. He went on to have what to many is seen as a Hall of Fame worthy career.

The Wild Card, as would the use of any kind of clock, changes the game fundamentally. The teams with the best records in each league during the regular season should be ones who play each other, the way it had been since the creation of the American League in 1901 and the first World Series in 1903 until the creation of the League Championship Series in 1969.

That League Championship Series I can buy, but the exspansion of both leagues and the use of the first Wild Card, just make it seem like the long, grueling regular season really means nothing. The addition of the second Wild Card has made it even appear even more irrelevant.

I ramble quite often but it worsens when I am passionate about a subject so let’s get back to the facts. In Cocorans’ piece he explains how the pitch clock still allows the pitcher plenty of procrastination time.

Getty Images.
Getty Images.

Small changes that have little to no impact on the game such as limiting the number of conferences on the pitching mound or speeding up the replay process and even keeping batters to doing their batting ritual once instead of multiple times per at-bat (my favorite example of this kind of obsessive complusive behavior was in Nomar Garciaparra‘s pre – and-during at-bat fixing of his batting gloves ritual). Even still, being superstitious is a part of the game, one of those nuances that makes it baseball.

On the whole though, the worst thing that could be done to this game is to put a clock on it. Clocks in baseball? It’s a terrible idea! Baseball was, is and will (hopefully) always be ….. timeless.

For this to take hold in the Majors, as opposed to just the Minor Leagues, the MLB Players’ Association would have to approve it. The owners already do but for the integrity and timelessness of the game of baseball, let’s hope that the player representatives aren’t too young now to remember how intensely important each moment of each game is.

A clock in baseball is the one thing that could take that those precious moments away and it just doesn’t seem like anyone or anything should be allowed to do that.

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