Baseball in 2023: The Beginning of a New Era
If you are a baseball fan, I suspect you have heard about the new rules that have been implemented since the beginning of spring training. These rules are going to change the game in big ways. Is that a good thing, or are they messing with the sacred? When I first heard about these changes I thought the pitch clock was a travesty. But as I have thought about it and done research, I think these are needed changes that will bring about improvement.
The Pitch Clock
This is the rule that angers and frustrates people the most. Baseball does not have a time limit. It never has. The pitcher has always been able to look in and then step off. Batters can step out of the box, adjust their gloves or helmet, and take a practice swing. The interesting thing is that these things have dramatically changed the length of the game. I could not find the source, but I heard my local broadcaster say that from 1950 to 1980, the average length of a game was about two to two and a half hours. In the first couple decades of the Twentieth Century they were about an hour and a half. As of 2019 the average length of a game was over three hours. Those are significant changes.
The pitch clock has been implemented in the minors for several seasons and it has reduced the length of games to 2-2 1/2 hours. I think this is much better than the recent consideration of reducing the game to 7 innings. This will introduce more of a rhythm to the game, which will keep fans interested. Younger sports fans or potential fans who think the games are too long and boring might give baseball a second look.
I’ve never liked the shift. It wasn’t technically cheating, but you’re tossing an infielder into the outfield to protect against base hits which could lead to runs. It makes sense as a defensive strategy. The problem is the fans want to see scoring. This requires having runners on the bases. This is where the excitement of the game is. To be fair I do enjoy a low scoring pitcher’s duel, but not all the time.
This is where things get complicated, but interesting. The pitcher being able attempt 2 pickoffs before risking a balk means fewer throws to first and more pitches to the plate. It means more base stealing. Who doesn’t love a good steal? And a pitcher being charged with a balk because he stepped off the rubber twice means more possible free advancements of runners which (again) leads to more excitement.
This is another rule that could lead to more base stealing, as it shortens the distance between the bags and gives base runners more real estate to grab onto. Three inches does not sound like much, but it helps.
Rules Affecting Game Outcomes
One complaint or concern I have heard about these rules is that they could affect outcomes of games. The big one is the Disengagement Rule, in a case such as a pitcher throwing over too many times or stepping off the rubber incurring a balk, which could score a man from third and cost a team a game, or a run at the playoffs, or even a World Series. The same could be said for the Pitch Clock, where a batter could be called out to lose an important game, or a pitcher that takes to long and incurs ball 4 and walks a runner home with the bases loaded because he’s nervous about giving up a run.
And this is where I’m going to get people riled up, because I say “so what?” It’s a rule of the game. It could happen. And the only one to blame is the player that violated the rule. Could it ruin a World Series? Well if it’s your team that loses because of the infraction, I suppose it does for that team and it’s fans. The other team doesn’t care.
What annoys me is the people who say: “okay that rule is fine, but don’t use it for the games that are important.” If it’s a good rule, it should apply to every play, in every game, in every series. It’s as bad as when I hear people complain about a good pass interference call in a football playoff game. They will say: “why don’t they let them play?” Because they cheated, that’s why. If it’s not a good rule then change it, or don’t implement it in the first place. But if it is a good rule, if it is fair, then it will make every play of every game better, regardless of the stakes.
Keep in mind this is not a comprehensive list of all of the rules that are changing, and that they are affecting games. What’s interesting to me is how this is going to affect pro baseball over the next 5-10 years. We could see new records in stolen bases, hits, RBI’s, and other categories. It means shorter games, which could get younger sports fans interested in the game, knowing they don’t have to invest 3-4 hours to watch. I’m excited to watch this season, and how it unfolds.
What do you think of the new rules? Leave a comment below. Do you think this hurts the game by introducing things that were never intended, or improves it with a more reasonable time frame, or brings excitement through more scoring and base traffic, or something else?
Photo Credit: Pitch Clock!