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Baseball curmudgeon applauds change

Commentary:

“The only clocks in a Major League stadium should tell us the time of day, and they should do so using hands, not digits.”

That was my posting on our fantasy baseball message board a couple of years ago when Major League officials began toying with the idea of a pitch clock. 

Baseball has long provided refuge to curmudgeonly traditionalists like me who revere the sport’s history and fret over anything that would change the game that I learned to love as a child. Other Johnny-Come-Latelys like the NBA and NFL can tinker with the rule book every year, but baseball should remain consistent. 

I never understood all the complaints about games lasting more than three hours. Do people get mad at Bruce Springsteen when he comes out for a third encore? Who cares if it screws up the TV schedule? For fans, it means more time at the ballpark. 

Baseball is the one game where time doesn’t matter. All of the other major sports are a race to beat the clock. There is a frenzy in the final moments of a close game, where fractions of a second can make the difference between victory and defeat, and all eyes are on the clock.

Winning teams in baseball have to earn the final out. There are still unpredictable finishes, but they aren’t as frantic. Fans watch the scoreboard to track the number of outs left in the game, not the number of seconds.

That leads to a more leisurely pace that I’ve always found appealing. But, there’s a fine line between leisurely and boring, and baseball was tilting in the wrong direction.

The new rule this year limiting the amount of time between pitches has worked better than I thought it would. 

The problem was not the overall length of the game, but the fact that there were way too many dead periods caused by players going through lengthy and elaborate routines of adjusting, then readjusting every piece of equipment between each pitch.

The pace of the game is much better now, and it’s easier to stay focused on the action. The new rule has added an element of clock-watching that I don’t like, but I’m not sure how else to accomplish the goal.

Other new rules this year include larger bases and a limit on how many times pitchers can attempt to pick runners off base. Those have dramatically increased the number of stolen bases. And, new restrictions prohibiting defensive shifts have led to higher batting averages.

Some of these rules may go too far, and there could be further tweaks. But the bigger story is that baseball is finally willing to change at all.

These rule changes have made the game more enjoyable to watch. But they won’t help my Colorado Rockies, as they inevitably slip farther and farther behind the Dodgers in the National League West standings again this year, just like every year. 

The change that Major League baseball still desperately needs is a salary structure that allows all teams to compete on an equal footing. The New York Mets are paying their players a combined total of more than $353 million this year. The Oakland Athletics are paying their players just under $57 million. That’s simply not a fair competition.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com