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STORIN: Time is right for new ideas regarding baseball's slow play

If you love the game of baseball, as I do, you need to pay attention to the writings of Tom Verducci in Sports Illustrated.

For my money there is none better. He knows the game, his analysis are usually right on the mark, he pulls no punches and has no particular bias. Best of all, his research produces information that seems to elude other writers.

A recent article focused on a troubling trend in baseball. In the past 10 years major league teams have added 29 minutes, 11 seconds of dead time to the average game.

The even-handed Verducci is quick to point out that this has not hurt the popularity of the game--so far.

"Baseball is more popular than ever," he writes. "More people consume baseball in more ways than ever before, and player salaries, ticket sales and television rights fees reflect these flush financial times.

"The worry for the next commissioner, however, is that these customers are not engaged enough and not young enough."

In other words, we old fans are dying out and being replaced by people who like a lot of action in their games.

An average baseball game in 2014 is three hours and eight minutes.

But Verducci says that is not as much of an issue as is the slowing pace of the game.

The writer cites a recent game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets in which a half inning with no runs, no hits, and just three balls put in play, took 21 minutes, 44 seconds.

Unusual? Perhaps, but certainly not unprecedented in 2014.

"In just 10 years," according to Verducci, "the time in between balls in play has increased 10 percent. You have to wait an extra 32.4 seconds today.

"Multiply that extra time by the average of 54.04 balls in play per games, and that's how you get the added 29 minutes, 11 seconds of down time over the course of an average game."

Last week at Camden Yards, during a game between Baltimore and Boston, I paid close attention to slow pace. Here are some of the things I witnessed.

  • The hitters continually step in and out of the batter's box adjusting their Velco batting gloves.
  • The pitchers step on and off the rubber and throw needlessly to first base.
  • Pitching coaches are allowed to visit the mound way too often and this usually attracts most of the infielders to join the pow wow.
  • The new instant replay rules encourage managers to slowly walk on the field to talk to umpires while they wait for a signal from the dugout on whether to challenge a play or not.
  • Umpires, who have the power to cut short most of the delays, do nothing to enforce rules that are already in place.
  • Rule 6.02 requires "the batter shall take his position in the batter's box promptly" and is not supposed to leave the box except for specified reasons. Rule 8.04 requires pitchers to deliver the pitch with the bases empty "within 12 seconds after he receives the ball."

    Verdcucci has some suggestions to speed up the game:

  • Fine players for slow play.
  • Do not let a pitcher leave the dirt area of the mound between pitches.
  • Do not let the batter call timeout after the pitcher comes set on the rubber.
  • Install a 12-second pitch clock.
  • Give each team a limited number of time outs over the course of a game. Baseball is the only sport that gives a team an unlimited number of timeouts. No more stopping the game as many times a you want.
  • Speed up pitching changes by limiting relief pitchers to two warmup pitches rather than eight. Does a backup quarterback get to throw eight practice throws to a receiver when he enters a game?
  • Verducci writes that if those ideas don't speed up the pace of the game the next step would be rules changes.

    One that I find particularly appealing is placing limits on pitching changes.

    "Every night managers burn through multiple relievers who face just a few batters," Verducci writes. "We are talking about a huge change in recent years on how the game is played. The number of times a relief pitcher was used for just one or two batters jumped 31 per cent from 1998 to 2012."

    Hmm, sounds like a man who would make a refreshing successor to Bud Selig.