I should probably go ahead and start out by saying that I have not yet watched nor listened to a baseball game since the new rules were implemented in Spring Training. And I didn’t get a chance to make it out to a minor league game last year. I can’t remember if the rules were in place the last time I did go to a Rainiers game; I vaguely remember a pitch clock running, but I don’t remember the umpires being sticklers for adhering to it. This was the year Kelenic started in AAA – so that would’ve been 2021 – and from what I recall they were just starting to sprinkle it in.
Anyway, I suppose my thoughts could change as I start watching games and as the season progresses. But, from what I’m hearing, and from what I know the rules represent, I think I’m like the majority: overwhelmingly in favor of them.
I’m decidedly NOT a baseball purist. I don’t think I’m any kind of sports purist, but I’ll be honest, I’m especially a fan of speeding things up.
Now, clearly, I’m no athlete. But, my friends and I used to play a considerable amount of baseball in my backyard (the baseball was a tennis ball, the bat was thick and plastic, the strike zone was a towel thumbtacked to the fence, foul balls over the fence/house were outs, you could throw the ball at a baserunner to tag them out), and as a pitcher who took pride in his craft (and kept copious notes of his stats throughout the “seasons”), I was a big fan of taking the ball and throwing it, with very little in-between nonsense.
It’s not that I necessarily hate it when a pitcher futzes with his gear, or when a hitter fidgets with his batting gloves. But, taken as a whole, you can see the clear difference in game play. We’re shaving off 30 minutes of bullshit! If your OCD brain can’t function between pitches without doing 15 ritualistic things, then maybe you don’t belong in the Major Leagues. Somebody posted a video to Twitter that featured nearly 3 minutes of down time between pitches; that’s clinically insane!
It’s also not like I was always thinking “games are too long”, but you knew it when you were watching it. Some pitcher loses the strike zone for an inning, and all of a sudden you’re sitting there for 45 minutes before the next team’s up to bat. You had hoped to be finished and in bed before 10pm, and all of a sudden it’s pushing 11pm with no end in sight.
It’s easy to blame the most egregious cases. I don’t know how Boston fans tolerated Nomar Garciaparra all those years. I know, in recent times, it’s been a nightmare having to sit through Diego Castillo on the mound; a guy who seemingly never makes it through an inning in under 20 pitches, with 45 hat twists in between. But, clearly, it’s just about everyone, all game long, contributing to the runaway boredom.
I’m a pretty big fan of the Mariners; I’ve been following them religiously since 1995. And even still, it’s hard to stay engaged through all 9 innings! I’m usually right there in the beginning, then I lose focus through the middle innings, before making a return towards the end. I don’t think that’s uncommon. When there’s nothing else going on; when it’s a lazy Sunday afternoon and you might find yourself nodding off for an hour or so in front of the TV, the pace of baseball becomes nice white noise to soothe your restful mind.
But now, when you know you probably only have two and a half hours before it’s over, there’s more urgency. There’s fewer opportunities to turn your focus to your phone, or whatever else is on TV. If you step away to make dinner, you might now find 3-4 innings have gone by!
There’s only a couple of instances where I’m not as much of a fan of the new pace of play.
The first has to do with the rhythm of the broadcast. Now, the shorter games can also be a good thing here, if you have announcers who are boring/annoying. But, when you’ve got good ones – when you’ve got Aaron Goldsmith and Mike Blowers, for instance – you don’t mind spending 3+ hours with them, because they’re so entertaining and good at their jobs. You want to hear their stories, you want to learn what facts they’ve dug up for that game, you want to laugh at their jokes and just be in their company. So, that’s a bit of a bummer. There’ll be a learning curve, I’m sure. Plenty of cliffhangers to stories that have to wait until the next half-inning. But, that’ll work itself out. And, most importantly, it isn’t the end of the world, nor a deal-breaker.
My other gripe is going to be one that I’m just going to have to deal with, and that’s actually attending the games. I don’t go during the work week. If I did – or if I retired and had season tickets – then yeah, getting out of there and back home by 10pm would be a very ideal scenario. But, when I go, it’s an event. I get a group of friends together, or I’m there with my sweetheart, and we’re there to have a good time! We want alcoholic beverages, we want to try all the different kinds of foods, maybe we want a souvenir, and I know that I want to enjoy myself as I keep score in a scorecard. I never want those games to end! Now, if you go to a game, and concessions don’t have their shit together, you’re bound to miss a significant chunk of the game because you were stuck in line! Not for nothing, but with the Mariners being as good as they are, you know there’s going to be a drastic increase in fan attendance, which is only going to further strain the understaffed concessions booths. And you better be on your toes for that seventh inning, because alcohol sales are going to be over before you know it!
I’m never going to be fully happy going to games unless they manage to go into extra innings. But, again, that’s just something I’ll have to deal with.
No More Shift
I’ll admit, I didn’t hate the shift as much as some people. Part of me feels like hitters should be able to knock the ball the other way, or otherwise take a bunt when they’re clearly giving it to you. But, mostly, I actually like pitching and defense. I like it when guys throw 7+ innings of shutout ball. I like the strategy of taking advantage of a particular hitter’s pull tendencies. I think all of that is very interesting, and it makes spray hitters that much more valuable.
But, it’s also REALLY discouraging to see a hitter whip a ball straight up the pitcher’s ass – where it used to glide over the mound and second base, into the outfield without even the semblance of a play from the short stop or second baseman – only for it to be easily scooped up by a guy standing right there and thrown to first for an easy 6-3 put-out. And it’s rather pathetic to see all of these left-handed batters roll over to the second baseman who’s positioned halfway between the infield dirt and the outfield wall.
Then, I think about what the shift has meant to certain hitters.
Corey Seager’s Brother Kyle Seager, for instance, might’ve been a perennial All Star. He came into baseball just as it was starting to be widely implemented, and by the end he was a shell of his early self and couldn’t keep his average above .250 to save his life. From 2011-2016, he was a .266 hitter; never had an average below .258. From 2017-2021, he was a .231 hitter; never had an average above .249. To make up for it, you really had to swing for the fences, which only increased your strikeouts (leading to that Three True Outcomes era we all loathed).
How many careers were derailed because of the shift? Conversely, how many middling pitchers were sustained? It’s not even that, though. Clearly, pitchers have outpaced hitters in natural ability over the last 20 years. Getting steroids out of the game helped. But, these guys are throwing in the upper 90’s with ease. They’re throwing nasty change-ups and sliders as secondary pitches, and the hitters can’t keep up. So, it only makes sense to throw the hitters a bone in this regard.
I say that as, again, a guy who loves pitching. A few more seeing-eye singles won’t make a whole helluva lot of difference for the really elite pitchers. But, maybe we get some of the duds out of the game a little quickler.
Bigger Bases/Fewer Pickoffs
I don’t know who could possibly have a problem with this, because it’s all straight up fun. Stolen bases are fun! Infield singles are fun! You know what’s not fun? Watching a pitcher throw over to first five times, only for that guy to take off running anyway. Pickoffs RARELY work. No one really has a good move anymore. More than anything, they just take advantage of the carelessness of the runner, who might have guessed wrong or just wasn’t paying attention.
I wasn’t even around for them, but I miss the days of guys stealing 100 bags. Between that and the shift going away, this feels like a resurgence for speedy slap hitters, who have been all but legislated out of the game thanks to nerds who took advantage of a flawed system. I’m all for winning by any means necessary, but it’s nice to add value where you can. And if a guy can hit around .300 – with little-to-no power – while stealing a bunch of bases and scoring a bunch of runs, there should be a place for him in Major League Baseball. It shouldn’t all be lumbering bombers who strike out 200 times a year and walk 100 times a year.
The beauty of baseball is that it takes all comers. You can be short, skinny, and fast, or you can be big, strong, and fat – or, really, any body type in between – and if you can play, you can play. So, let everyone play!
It’s funny, sports leagues tweak rules all the time, and it seems like they’re constantly getting it wrong. The NFL is a major culprit in this; who remembers the disaster that was allowing coaches to throw challenge flags for pass interference? Lots of half measures and hare-brained compromises lead to a watering down of the product. But, I feel like baseball got these things 100% right. Again, we’ll see how it shakes out in the regular season. But, without going to severe extremes – like shortening games to 7 innings – they’ve managed to preserve the integrity of the game, while reshaping it for future generations.
And, oddly enough, getting back to basics a little bit. Games used to be like this way back in the day. Shorter in length, with more singles and stolen bases. We’re improving the game for future generations by harkening back to a time when it was played by previous generations!