John Feinstein Proposes Changes To Shorten MLB Games

I love baseball. I’ve loved it since I was a kid. I played it reasonably well—decent enough high school player to be recruited by Division 3 schools—and, to this day, there are few things I love more than sitting in a ballpark keeping score—which I’ve done at every game I’ve attended since about the age of 10—and just enjoying the sights and sounds of the ballpark.

I’m not sure I ever enjoyed a book project more than the one I took on in 2012, when I researched a book on Triple-A baseball (the book was called, ‘Where Nobody Knows Your Name.’). My job every day was to go to a ballpark, talk to players, managers and umpires prior to the game and then sit and watch the game that night. Someone actually paid me to do that. Seriously.

I have subscribed to the baseball package since its inception and, although I watch the Mets more than any other team—in part because I’m a Mets fan; in part because there is no better announce booth than Gary Cohen, Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez—I watch everyone at various times. When the Dodgers played a home game on a Sunday afternoon, I tried not to miss a single pitch as called by the great Vin Scully.

But I haven’t watched very much of the baseball playoffs this fall. It isn’t because the Mets lost the National League wildcard game to the Giants (gee, what a shock Madison Bumgarner was unhittable in October) or because I’m not into the teams still playing. Like anyone without a horse in the race, I think a Cubs-Indians World Series would be great. No offense to the Dodgers and Blue Jays but they’ve won World Series in my lifetime.

No, it’s not that. It’s the length of games. They are out of control.

Rob Manfred spent most of his first year as commissioner bragging about all the good the pace-of-play committee had done to shorten games because games were taking six minutes less than they had in 2014. That’s a LITTLE progress, but nothing to dance around the campfire about. Then, things went backwards again this season, three of those minutes returning, meaning the average game lasted just over three hours.

Three hours, folks, is too long for a baseball game. But it’s a damn sprint compared to postseason. For all the talk about how great game 5 of Nationals-Dodgers was, the fact is the game took 4 hours and 32 minutes to play. Seriously? An 8:08 start and a 12:40 a.m. finish. Nine innings. That’s inhuman. It’s stupidly late for people watching on TV and an absolute joke for those who actually go to the game.

On Tuesday, both LCS games were blow-outs. The Blue Jays beat the Indians, 5-1 and the Dodgers beat the Cubs, 6-0. There was only one mid-inning pitching change in each game. That’s as opposed to the FIVE Dusty Baker made (in vain) in the seventh inning of game 5 in Washington. Even with the relative lack of trips to the mound and pitching changes, the American League game took 3:01 and the National League game, 3:18. By today’s postseason standards that’s FAST.

Which is scary. There’s a Catch-22 going on here: If you want to see a fast game, you need a blow-out. If you want a close game, it’s almost certain to take forever. You can’t win.

The time has come—and gone—for change. REAL change, not a tweak here, a tweak there to make games (best case) six minutes shorter. These changes need to be made for the good of the game and they need to be made no matter how much the old-timers and the so-called purists scream about them. There is nothing in life—other than sleep—that should go on for more than four hours. If you don’t believe me, check out a Viagra commercial. Four hours and you go to the hospital. In baseball, four hours will put you into a coma.

So, here is what I propose:

–Limit pitching changes and trips to the mound by the manager or pitching coach. How do you do that?

First, you allow a trip to the mound without making a change ONLY for the starter. Once you are into the bullpen, any trip to the mound means a change. That’s only going to help minimally. The real issue is the number of pitching changes allowed during a game. How do you do something about this? You have to limit the number of available pitchers. Before each game a manager has to submit a list of five relief pitchers—no more—who are ‘active,’ for that game. If a game goes extra innings, then he can add one pitcher per inning.

The purists will scream about this as will managers who like to have specialists to throw a 2-2 pitch to a switch-hitter who is from below the Mason-Dixon line. It has to stop.

–The catcher—other than when his manager or pitching coach comes out, can go to the mound once in an inning. Having trouble with the signs? Tough. Put down one finger for a fastball; two for a curve; three for a slider and move on. This ain’t rocket science—even with a runner on second base.

–Barring injury, a hitter may leave the batter’s box ONCE in an at-bat. The rule actually exists but it is almost never enforced. Step out a second time and it’s an automatic strike. A third time and you’re out.

–Enforce the 20-second rule—or make it a 15-second rule—on pitches thrown with the bases empty. Limit throw-overs with a man on first to two per batter. If you throw over a third time, all runners are awarded a base.

–Replays must be cut down in length. If a manager can’t decide in 30 seconds whether he wants to ask for replay, the game moves on. And, if the folks in New York can’t figure out if a call was right or wrong within 90 seconds, the call on the field stands.

The idea of replay: getting calls right is a noble one, but the way it is being adjudicated has become torture. Even on calls where the first replay makes it clear whether the call was right or wrong, it is taking forever to get a decision. Ninety-seconds max and don’t bring the umpires in to put on the head set. Let someone else put on the head set, give a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down as soon as they get word and let’s move on—quickly.

–It would be lovely if the time between half-innings could be cut, even if by 15 seconds. I know the teams have to sell every product on land or sea (Have you ever listened to a Yankee game on the radio with about 100 drop-ins per inning?) but if you saved 15 seconds 17 times a game, that’s more than four minutes. If Manfred is jumping up and down over six minutes saved, how would he feel about wiping out 4:15 in one fell swoop?

–And finally, anytime a nine-inning game lasts more than 3 hours and 30 minutes, both teams have to donate $10,000 to a charity set up by MLB each year. Change the beneficiary every spring if you want, but make the teams dole out if they dilly-dally. Heck, 18 Yankees-Red Sox games a year, that’s $360,000 almost guaranteed just for starters. By season’s end, the charity kitty could have enough money in it to fly a bunch of under-privileged kids to The World Series.
Oh wait, the games would start WAY after their bed time. That’s one more change that’s needed: No games start after 7 o’clock local time—EVER.

I’m now going to take a nap so I can try to stay up for Cubs-Dodgers game 4 tonight. The odds are against me.

John Feinstein’s latest book is, “The DH,”—the third in his ‘Triple Threat,’ mystery series for kids 10-and-up. His most recent non-fiction book, “The Legends Club—Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano and an Epic College Basketball Rivalry,” spent six months on the New York Times bestseller list.

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