I have heard a good deal of chatter lately about rule changes for improving baseball. Stephen Dubner has a post on it at Freaknomics, and the comments reflect a common complaint about the way the game is played: it’s too long. I have never minded the pace of the game, but I admit things can get slow. I dare you to try and watch a Tivoed game without hitting the fast-forward button for anything but commercials.
I’ve seen numerous suggestions to speed up the game, and I think that many of them alter the play of the game in a way that I find unsatisfactory. Making players stay in the box between pitches, putting a time-limit on pitchers, limiting pitching changes, disallowing intentional walks or pickoff throws, etc. tamper with the game in a way that I don’t like. I’m not saying that baseball shouldn’t consider some of these options, but I think there are other areas where baseball could speed things up before changing rules that more directly impact the play of the game.
Here are my suggestions:
— Eliminate the eight-pitch warm-up for pitchers. When you step on the mound, start pitching. Warm up in the bullpen and play the game on the field. This changes the game by forcing managers to call the bullpen earlier (gasp!). This allows managers to make as many pitching changes as they want, but it speeds up the transition. The strategy involved in choosing relievers and pitch hitters is an enjoyable part of the game.
— Eliminate all arguing. Basketball and football don’t seem to have a problem with players and coaches arguing with referees. Yes, players and coaches complain in these sports, but it’s largely within the flow of the game. Arguments are quick, and the game continues. Those who carry on for more than a few seconds are tossed in basketball. In football, arguments rarely seem to happen. Umpires shouldn’t put up with it. If you don’t like the call, tough. If you keep barking about it, you’re gone. Managers and players who remain on the field after they have been tossed will receive suspensions and fines. Is it fun to watch arguments? A little, but I’d give it up to speed the game along. Legitimate problems with the umpires can be handled off the field by a review process.
— Eliminate unlimited time-outs. I have never understood why players and managers have all of these signs if they can just yell “time” and walk over to each other and say what they want to say. Give teams three time-outs or none—I prefer the latter—and put those signs to use. Do you really need to talk to your pitcher to see if he’s tired? Why not have an “I’m tired” signal? Are the pitcher and catcher confused about the signs? That’s their problem. I have a feeling players can adjust to this quickly.
There you have my simple rule changes. I can’t say how much time they would shave off the game, but at least these minimally interfere with how the game is played on the field. If you want to argue that all of these things are part of the game, then don’t complain about the game taking so long. I really don’t mind the length of the game. I would like to see these rule-changes implemented before baseball takes more drastic measures.