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November 06, 2007

Speeding up the game

There were two interesting newses out of the baseball circuit today, neither of which had to do with the Mets' infuriating refusal to tell Scott Boras and Alex Rodriguez to take a hike.

The newses I'm referring to are that baseball's general managers have voted to recommend the limited use of instant replay:

General managers recommended for the first time Tuesday that instant replay be used to help umpires on boundary calls -- whether potential home runs are fair or foul, whether balls go over fences or hit the tops and bounce back, and whether fans interfere with possible homers.

The proposal was approved by a 25-5 vote. There was no specific time frame on when such a system might be put in place.
Although I'm a traditionalist, I guess I can see the argument here. A ball is either fair or foul as it leaves the stadium. We're not dealing with quantum mechanics here. Checking a series of replays on a potential home run down the line makes some sense.

It's a little more problematic to use the replay on bounce-backs. Say the ball bounces back, and the umpire rules it's a home run. How does the fielding team mount a successful protest? It's too late to continue the play with the ball in play. The batter and runners have already slowed down and run the bases. You can't have a do-over. In contrast, if the umpire says it's in play, as with Todd Zeile's non-homer in the 2000 World Series, everyone finishes the play. The batting team's protest that it was a home run would work. If the replay showed the ball was a home run, everyone would be waved around the bases.

The other interesting news, found at the bottom of the same article, is that baseball is considering ways to speed up the game:
Solomon also said that to speed up games, baseball was considering limiting when a hitter could step out of the batter's box between pitches, restricting the number of times a player could visit the mound, and limiting the number of players allowed to visit the mound.
What??? I'd like to see the stats on the amount of time taken up by batters stepping out and players (not the manager or coach) visiting the mound. My guess is that it's negligible. I also think stepping out to interfere with a pitcher's rhythm is a minor but important part of the game between pitcher and batter. I still remember a duel between Al Hrabosky and Ed Kranepool in the late 70s, in which Hrabosky did his "psych up" routine before each pitch and Kranepool stepped out to rattle him. It was a classic.

Here are the two biggest sources of unnecessary wasted time in baseball (and that's not redundant):

1. TV Advertising. Reduce ads by one minute between each half inning, and you've shortened the game by nearly 20 minutes. Yeah, I know advertising pays today's high salaries. My plan won't happen. But that doesn't mean I'm not right.

2. Too much hitting. Baseball has appealed to today's ADHD crowd by focusing on home runs, bandbox hitters' parks (like the one in Philly), and other means of high scoring. High-scoring games take longer than low-scoring games. Is it worth it? Not to me. Personally, I'd be much happier watching a display of excellent fielding than sitting through a slug-fest. Top-notch pitching duels are more fun, too. Watching a Hall of Fame pitcher in his prime, like the Pedro Martinez of a few years ago, is much more enjoyable than watching some steroid-addled palooka uncork one into the ether. Restoring some balance by, for example, expanding the strike zone would help, but it won't happen.

Meanwhile, baseball will go ahead and prevent hitters from stepping out of the box and third baseman from going to the mound. And we'll all wonder why it doesn't speed up the games. Just in time for the next useless rules change.