Bill Ballou: Pace-of-game rules are a good start to improving baseball
FORT MYERS, Fla. — David Ortiz was getting ready to step into the cage for live batting practice here on Saturday when he spied a group of writers, wandered over and asked one of them about the details of the new pace-of-game rules.
For all of his ranting about the changes last week, Ortiz really doesn’t know what the reality will be. Nobody does. It may turn out like the game’s occasional attempts to enforce the balk rule. None of them have ever worked, and even now, nobody really knows what a balk is.
There will be some sort of accommodation between players, umpires and league officials as things go along, since Major League Baseball finally seems serious about reducing the drag that has crept into the sport in the last couple of decades.
Ortiz is a handy target for pace-of-game advocates because he is a chief offender. It’s like enforcing the speed limit — everybody gets a little leeway, maybe up to 75 or so — but Ortiz is the guy who roars past at 90, practically daring anyone to pull him over.
Still, pace of game is controlled by the pitcher, and until that changes, what hitters do almost does not matter. As Ortiz has been a chief offender of stepping out, his present and former teammates Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett have been chief offenders of taking forever to throw. It gets to be a battle of wills, and in the end, spectators lose.
Pitchers do need a clock, and hitters do need to stay in the box, but baseball also has to concede some revenue and cut down the time between innings. That would tell the players that the people who run the sport are taking responsibility, too.
There are tweaks to be made with the replay system, too, and it is still not clear why there need to be so many mound conferences, or why a base runner needs time out to brush himself off after a slide, or take off his padding when he reaches base.
The average Red Sox game lasted 2 hours, 31 minutes in 1974. It was 2:54 in 2004 and 3:11 last year. Boston has been a work-the-count team, but that may change given how its offense faded last year. How many 0-2 counts can a hitter tolerate, after all?
For any business except those that advertise on Me TV, the 20-30-something age group is the key to prosperity. While baseball attendance is robust, the sport is failing to gain new customers among younger potential fans. For them, it is all about attention span, and it is about time baseball paid attention to its pace-of-game problem.
Bill Ballou writes about baseball for The Worcester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tgredsox.