When it comes to the leisurely pace of the game and the lack of time constraints -- qualities at the very heart of baseball's charm for many -- sometimes there can be too much of a good thing.
So for the last two seasons, Major League Baseball has taken watching the clock to a new level, mandating that teams and players keep up a brisk tempo, and even meting out fines for repeated actions that impede the pace of the game. Among the many items the 14-member Special Committee formed by Commissioner Bud Selig will be discussing, pace of game is one aspect already being addressed.
Make no mistake: There are clocks on the game of baseball, even if they aren't showing up on the scoreboard. Umpires and observers are monitoring and measuring the time between pitches -- which was hovering around 27 seconds last season. And ultimately, they're keeping an eye on average time of game, which peaked at two hours, 58 minutes in 2000 and was at two hours, 52 minutes last year, according to STATS LLC.
"Baseball has its own rhythm, and we don't ever want to artificially change that," MLB executive vice president of baseball operations Jimmie Lee Solomon said in an interview with MLB.com last year. "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."
Certainly, one of the beauties of baseball is that it isn't on a shot clock, and that an inning could last a minute or an hour. Baseball's the game to let your mind wander and consider the possibilities before your eyes and ears thrust you into the action.
But even the most strident fan of baseball strategy will find occasions when that fourth trip to the bullpen in a blowout -- especially accompanied by a lumbering stroll to the mound that could use a cane, a crosswalk and a Boy Scout to complete the picture -- is enough to induce a yawn.
Every player, coach and manager received information this Spring Training and last about pace-of-game regulations, and what umpires and observers would be scrutinizing. Generally, two warnings precede a fine, and when someone is warned, they're informed of exactly why.
According to the Associated Press, citing STATS LLC, the Yankees (3:08), Red Sox (3:04) and Dodgers (3:02) played the longest nine-inning games last year. Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon was fined $5,000 for slow play, and Mets manager Jerry Manuel was fined for a slow pinch-hitting move in the ninth inning of a game last May against the Marlins.
Joe Girardi, manager of the World Series champion Yankees, says it's a balancing act.
"We do whatever we can," Girardi told the AP. "We tell the players what to do, but if you're going to score runs and see lots of pitches and there's pitching changes, the game's going to be longer. But we're doing everything we can to adhere to the rules."
This pace-of-game effort began in earnest May 21, 2008, when the Commissioner's Office informed all 30 clubs of it via a conference call held by Solomon. The directive included more stringent regulation of existing rules that affect the pace of play, including time between pitches -- dictated by Rule 8.04 to be 12 seconds, between the batter being set and the pitch being delivered -- and players entering the game.
While time of game can be affected by variables such as the number of runs scored, pitchers used or pitches seen by patient hitters, Solomon says major areas of concern include: time taken between individual pitches in an at-bat, time used by managers and coaches in trips to the mound and time used by relievers to enter the game and prepare to pitch.
One other item that has been discussed for possible enforcement 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 timeout by the umpire. The rule has been used in some Minor League games, and MLB is negotiating its potential use in the Majors with the Players' Association, Solomon said last year.
"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."
John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.