Baseball fans agree on few things, but if there's any one thing upon which all fans agree, it's that most games take too damn long to play. Major League games, which took an average of two hours and 50 minutes in 2010, lasted more than three hours last season. And this can't be blamed on an offensive explosion with home run after home run followed by pitching change after pitching change.
Reports trickled out last week that things might be changing, starting in the minor leagues, but hopefully soon moving up to the majors. The biggest change would be a pitch clock, proposed for use in the AA and AAA minor leagues this upcoming season, positioned at various locations around the stadium. The pitcher will have 20 seconds to make the pitch, and if he doesn't, then a ball will called by the umpire. Tied into this would be enhanced enforcement of the rule stating that batters must keep one foot in the batter's box at all times.
These are all good steps that will help to move baseball along at a crisper pace. It's stuff, however, that can actually be done now. Rule 6.02(d)(1) states that a batter must keep one foot in the box at all times -- there are exceptions, of course. And Rule 8.04 states that a pitcher has 12 seconds to throw a pitch once the batter is in the box. If the batter is outside the box and delaying a pitch, then a strike is supposed to be called on the batter. If the pitcher takes longer than 12 seconds, then a ball is supposed to be called.
This doesn't happen, of course. Umpires refuse to enforce these rules, which gives rise to David Ortiz stepping out and adjusting his batting gloves between every pitch. Jeff Bagwell always stepped out between pitches. And if the rule keeps the pitchers from pacing around the mound trying to gain composure after home runs, then more power to it. So since the umpires won't do their jobs, it's looking like there will be the pitch clock in the near future that forces all involved to follow the rules.
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This is all a nice start, and it will help to shorten the time one spends at the ballpark for 1-0 games. But these are only minor steps that make it appear that MLB is, for once, being proactive. The biggest problem comes about from television. Commercial breaks for local games are supposed to be 2:05 and 2:25 for nationally televised games. But the breaks usually end up taking more than three minutes, with the batter still waiting for his walk-up music to be played as the broadcast returns to the game.
It would also help to speed things up a bit if the manager had to call for a reliever as soon as he left the dugout, instead of standing around the mound chatting about candlesticks for five minutes. And the reliever should be running in from the bullpen as soon as the manager motions for him to enter the game, instead of staying there and tossing a few more warmup pitches. There was also an experiment in the Arizona Fall League that limited the number of trips to the mound by the catcher or manager/coach to just three a game -- in all honesty, there's no way in hell that anybody's ever agreeing to let that happen in the majors.
As a fan, I'm willing to make sacrifices to better the game. Eliminating walk-up music would be a great start. There's no need to stop the game for five minutes on Sundays to sing "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch, and for what it's worth, how about dumping the seventh-inning stretch in its entirety. It serves no purpose whatsoever except for wasting time.
Perhaps nothing will happen to improve the speed of play. Perhaps these measures will be tried in the minors and found lacking. There's nothing really wrong with sport, and if people are happy with what should be short games dragging on for hours with 15 pitching changes an inning and guys walking back to the dugout for a new bat after every pitch. Sure, it brings the game to a standstill, but as long as the regional sports networks are willing to pay millions of dollars to broadcast games, then the experience of the actual fan inside the stadium is not worth considering.