A little more than a year has passed since Major League Baseball put the spotlight on picking up the pace of games, adding disciplinary measures to help move things along. In the first two months of the 2009 season, those measures have been put to significant use. MLB has handed down numerous warnings, and has imposed "multiple" player fines and one manager fine, according to MLB executive vice president of baseball operations Jimmie Lee Solomon. The system of warnings and fines for repeated game-delaying actions of players, coaches and managers is a key tool to keeping game times in line, Solomon says.
"I believe as we go forward and the disciplinary approach we have implemented takes hold over time, you'll notice the pace of the game picking up," Solomon said. While Solomon would not discuss specifics on the discipline handed out thus far, the manager fine, as announced in an MLB press release issued May 2, was handed down to Mets manager Jerry Manuel. He was fined for violating baseball's pace of game regulations in an April 29 game against the Marlins, in which backup catcher Omir Santos took several minutes to come in from the bullpen to appear as a pinch-hitter with two outs in the ninth inning. The whole idea behind the discipline is to ensure marked improvement in how the game is conducted in order to rein in game times. True success will take time, literally. But at least time appears to be moving in the right direction. According to Solomon, the average time of game thus far this season of 2 hours, 52 minutes is actually about one minute longer than where it was one year ago. But more important, the pace is quicker -- 27 seconds per pitch, compared to 27.5 this time a year ago. Solomon said last week's games trended even better, with games the week of June 1-7 lasting an average of 2 hours, 48 minutes, with 26.8 seconds between pitches. "We're a little slower than we were at this point last year, and we ended up doing really well last year," Solomon said. "We are trying to get the game sped up. But runs per game are up right now, and pitches per game are up. All those various things are consistent with longer games, but our pace is good." It's not by mistake. Starting with umpires and working up to Solomon and to Commissioner Bud Selig, a lot of eyes are on teams keeping up the pace. It was on May 21, 2008, when the Commissioner's Office directed all 30 clubs via a conference call held by Solomon that the pace of game would need to improve. The directive included more stringent regulation of certain existing rules that affect the pace of play, including time between pitches and players entering the game. One other rule being discussed for enforcement as early as next year is a "batter's box rule," which would dictate that a hitter must stay in the batter's box throughout his at-bat unless granted time out by the umpire. The rule is being used in some Minor League games, and MLB is negotiating its potential use in the Majors with the Players Association, Solomon said. "Baseball has its own rhythm, and we don't ever want to artificially change that," Solomon said. "We want to quicken the pace of the game, but people need a chance to prepare and do certain things to perform. We understand that. It's about having a quick-paced game more so than a fast game." Every player, coach and manager received a bulletin this Spring Training about the regulations, and what umpires, along with a group of observers, would be scrutinizing, Solomon said. Generally, two warnings precede a fine, and when someone is warned, they're informed of exactly why. According to Solomon, the most telling among the many areas that can be controlled -- and are under the most scrutiny -- are the following time issues: Between pitches: Rule 8.04 states a pitcher needs to throw a pitch within 12 seconds of the batter being set, but Solomon acknowledges the "biggest" factor in pace issues is that too often it becomes a "cat and mouse game" between the hitter and pitcher before that 12 seconds even starts. Relievers entering the game: It takes some relievers too long to get to the mound and prepare to pitch before they get to their eight warmup tosses. Manager or coach visits: Long an area of gamesmanship and used to get extra time for relievers to prepare, managers and pitching coaches are being watched so that their trips to the mound are not too leisurely, and that they jog out and jog back. "I would contend that that pace of game -- and many players have told me this -- helps players pay attention and play better," Solomon said. "So it's not just the fans, and it's not just the Commissioner's Office wanting to see the games improve in these areas, but a lot of players, too." And having a little reminder that might hit your pocketbook can't hurt, Solomon contends. He said he saw a good example of how that type of motivation can work wonders recently. His daughter, previously known to drive about 10 mph over the speed limit at times, received her first ticket and a fine for not obeying the rules of the road, or at least a posted sign. "It's amazing how that impacts you," Solomon said. "Before, it was a pretty sign. Now it really means something."
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, The Grind. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.