MLB May Implement Original Pace-Of-Play Rules If Union Says No
The MLBPA is "expected to reject" MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s revised proposal on new rules to improve pace of play, a move that would "set the stage for Manfred to unilaterally implement his original proposal," according to sources cited by Ken Rosenthal of THE ATHLETIC. That would include a 20-second pitch clock and reduced mound visits. Sources said that the players are "not opposed to pace-of-play improvements and will act professionally if Manfred orders new rules." In addition to "objections to the pitch clock, players have expressed a variety of other concerns, including the dead time resulting from instant replay and innings break." Some players also "worry that speeding up the game will increase the risk of injury." Manfred prefers a "negotiated settlement" with the players, but he "repeatedly has made clear that he will introduce a pitch clock" for the '18 season with out without the players' consent. Sources said that the owners are "strongly in favor of the changes, and they would not allow Manfred to relent even if he became reluctant to proceed without the union’s cooperation." Sources said that some players, "believing the new rules will be unpopular with fans and damaging to the game, want to absolve themselves of responsibility while putting the onus on Manfred to deal with any public fallout and unintended consequences" (THEATHLETIC.com, 1/18). In N.Y., Ken Davidoff notes MLBPA Exec Dir Tony Clark and Manfred "plan to meet next week and discuss the matter some more." The new rules would "ideally be put in place by early February, giving teams and umpires lead time to prepare for them in exhibition games" (N.Y. POST, 1/19).
DETAILS OF THE CHANGES: YAHOO SPORTS' Jeff Passan noted that MLB "intends to use a 20-second pitch clock with the bases empty and runners on." The pitch clock in the proposed agreement "would have been 18 seconds with the bases empty and would have been shut off with runners on." The clock will "start when a pitcher has the ball on the mound and stop when the pitcher begins his windup or comes set." If the pitcher "steps off the rubber, the clock resets." Batters "must be in the box five seconds after the clock starts." Pitchers will get one warning per game, and a second violation would "result in an automatic ball." The penalty "will begin on Opening Day, as opposed to the rejected proposal, which would’ve delayed the implementation until May 1." The changes to mound visits are "particularly acute." Any coach, manager or player going to the mound or a pitcher leaving "to confer with a player will count "as a visit." Pitchers must leave the game on a second visit. There also will be a "30-second between-batters timer implemented" starting Opening Day. Each hitter will "receive one warning per game." Should the union "officially reject the plan," MLB intends in '19 to "make inning breaks 2 minutes, 20 seconds for local games and 2:40 for national games," and to institute a "six-pitch maximum for warm-ups that must be finished with 35 seconds left on the between-innings clock." A source said that the amount of "commercial time the league sells would remain 90 seconds" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/18).
HOW IT CAME TO BE: THE ATHLETIC's Rosenthal noted MLB's decision came after the MLBPA "failed in an informal survey to reach consensus" on the pace-of-play proposal. Sources said that the union's decision to reject the proposal "blindsided" Manfred, Chief Legal Officer Dan Halem and others in MLB who "believed as recently as two weeks ago they were close to an agreement that would have included a pitch clock and ball-strike penalties for those who exceeded prescribed time limits." The tension between the players and owners "seemingly is growing daily, and the players’ willingness to allow Manfred to unilaterally implement his original pace-of-play proposal is a stunning reflection of their indignation." The players could have "cut a better deal, still can cut a better deal, with Manfred and Clark scheduled to meet next week." Instead, they are "drawing a line in the sand." Many "oppose a pitch clock and the potentially game-changing penalties attached to it." However, sources said that the players also are "upset by the slow-moving free agent market, as well as the clubs’ aggressive conduct last Friday, the deadline for exchanging salary-arbitration figures." Sources said that the players still "deem the proposal unacceptable -- so unacceptable, the gap will be difficult to bridge even when Manfred and Clark meet." MLB considers the union’s position "nothing short of baffling" (THEATHLETIC.com, 1/18).
TRUST ME: Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who is member of MLB's competition committee, said that the pace-of-play adjustments "should be good for the game." Appearing on WJZ-FM, Showalter said, "It’s a good move. It’s not going to affect the pitchers. It’s going to affect the hitters, and if we can take the game from three-plus (hours) to under three, it’s a better game. Believe me, the stuff that’s going to go into play, you’re barely going to notice it except in the time of game a little bit" (BALTIMORE SUN, 1/19). ESPN's Michael Wilbon said he supports the changes because games "are too damn long." Wilbon: "You have to cut a half hour off these games to make them palatable.” ESPN's Tony Kornheiser: "There's nobody more important to any team in any sport than a pitcher in baseball. If a pitcher believes he's being rushed, it could be negatively affecting his performance." He added he would "never do this in the playoffs" (“PTI,” ESPN, 1/18).