It will take time for pitchers, hitters, catchers and umpires to adjust to new routines
By Richard Justice
TAMPA, Fla. -- These are common-sense first steps aimed at quickening the pace of the game. This is a good thing, a very good thing.
Will these changes be perfect? Probably not. Will they be immediately accepted by everyone? Of course not. Are there more changes coming? Absolutely.
Let's take one step at a time. On Friday, baseball dipped a toe in the water aimed at speeding up the action and making games shorter.
Here are the essentials of the changes:
1. Hitters must keep at least one foot in the batter's box during a plate appearance.
2. The time it takes to start an inning after a commercial break will be shortened.
3. Managers can ask for instant replays from the dugout.
As modest as these changes may seem, they are not. That's especially true of not allowing hitters to step out of the batter's box between pitches.
So patience is a must, because players and umpires will be asked to change routines that have become familiar and comfortable. If a hitter has stepped out of the batter's box after every pitch for 5,000 plate appearances, it's no small thing to do something different.
Players spend years polishing their hitting mechanics, and what seems like an idiosyncrasy to you or me -- stepping out of the box, adjusting batting gloves, pulling at the bill of the helmet -- has become what they see as an essential part of their routine.
Some hitters will be resistant to change a routine that has helped get them to the Major Leagues. They'll eventually get there, but it'll be a process, and so everyone -- pitchers, hitters, catchers, umpires -- will have to have a different mindset.
If you're fretting that this is monkeying with something scared, it's not. Hank Aaron said he's not sure if he ever stepped out of the batter's box, and he played his career in an era when games seldom lasted longer than 2 1/2 hours.
In 1981, baseball games lasted an average of two hours, 33 minutes. Last season, it was three hours, two minutes, despite less offense.
Some of that increase is because of more pitching changes, especially late in games. This will not change.
However, everything else will be up for discussion. One possible change is restricting the number of trips to the mound a manager or pitching coach is allowed to make when they're not removing a pitcher.
Finally, there's the matter of a 20-second pitch clock, which was used in the Arizona Fall League this offseason and will be used in Double-A and Triple-A in 2015. This obviously is the most dramatic of the proposals, and it is the one that will spark the most disagreement.
According to fangraphs.com, 79 of 88 big league pitchers who qualified for the ERA title took more than 20 seconds between pitches. David Price was the leader at 26.6 seconds per pitch, followed by Jorge De La Rosa (26.0).
First things first. If this first round of changes knocks the average time of game down to, say, two hours, 45 minutes, there's a chance that the changes could end with these three basic changes.
One of Commissioner Rob Manfred's mantras is that he's going to be open to everything, and that he and his staff will spend enormous time brainstorming ways to make things better.
Let's be clear about one thing. This is not a game in crisis. Baseball is enormously healthy and has the attendance figures and local television ratings to prove it. When you factor in competitive balance and this generation of ballparks, there has never been a better time to be a baseball fan.
And people like Braves president John Schuerholz -- one of the driving forces behind the pace-of-game initiative -- are sensitive to the fact that millions and millions of people believe that the time they spend watching baseball is just about the best part of their day.
For them, nothing will change. The essential things we love about the game -- the competition and artistry and chess matches -- will never change. But as we've learned with division alignments and Will Card Games and Interleague Play, change can make the greatest game on the planet even better. That's the bottom line.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.