Over a week ago, Mets pitcher Max Scherzer felt as though he’d awakened one fine morning to discover he had super powers. Very well, that’s a slight exaggeration. But after he’d spent two innings against his old team, the Nationals, striking out five despite surrendering a single run, Scherzer felt the newly-mandated pitch clock gave him, well…
“Really, the power the pitcher has now—I can totally dictate pace,” he crowed then. “The rule change of the hitter having only one timeout changes the complete dynamic of the hitter-and-pitcher dynamic. I love it. It’s a cat-and-mouse game. There’s rules, and I’ll operate within whatever the rules are. I can come set even before the hitter is really in the box. I can’t pitch until eight [seconds], but as soon as his eyes are up, I can go.”
Not so fast. Come last Friday, Scherzer faced the Nats once again and learned the hard way that he might have competition in the New Tricks Up Their Sleeves Department. With a man on first, he thought he could catch Victor Robles off guard the split second home plate umpire Jeremy Riggs re-set the pitch clock, after Robles stepped out of the box with his only allowable step-out during a plate appearance before stepping back in. Scherzer started to throw at that very split second. Riggs called a balk.
“He calls time, I come set, I get the green light,” Max the Knife told reporters post-game. “I thought that was a clean pitch. He said no. We have to figure out where the limit is.”
Baseball’s government thinks it did it for him. Hours after Scherzer’s little experiment was neutralized, MLB sent a memo to all 30 teams saying forthrightly that pitchers can’t throw “before the batter is reasonably set in the batter’s box.” Come Saturday, another Mets pitcher, Justin Verlander, discovered he’ll have to do something about his long-normal routine around the mound between pitches.
“Today I got on the mound a couple times and looked up and it was like, I only had seven seconds,” the future Hall of Famer said, after pitching three innings against the Marlins, surrendering a single run, and having to adjust his mound strolling. “If me and [Mets catcher] Omar [Narvaez] weren’t on the same page, it could have been a problem.”
When this spring training’s exhibition games began, Padres third baseman Manny Machado became baseball’s first to earn a 10-year, $350 million contract extension for opening with an 0-1 count on him before he even began a plate appearance. Okay, that’s a joke. But Machado did have strike one called on him when facing Mariners pitcher (and former Cy Young Award winner) Robbie Ray and failing to be in the batter’s box when eight seconds on the clock passed.
“I’m going to have to make a big adjustment,” Machado said with a hearty laugh after that game. “I might be 0-1 down a lot this year. It’s super fast. It’s definitely an adjustment period.”
Pitchers have 15 seconds to throw a pitch after receiving the ball back with the bases empty and 20 with men on base. Batters must be set and ready after 8 seconds are gone. And the pitchers aren’t the only ones looking to circumvent some of the new rules imposed by baseball’s attention-deficit commissioner. The notorious defensive infield shifts are now against the law, too, at least to the extent that there must be an infielder each on either side of second base itself at all times. Well, now. A few teams have already tried their own end run around that.
The Red Sox, for one. They thought they could get away with moving their left fielder to the shallowest patch of the right field grass against notorious all-or-nothing slugger Joey Gallo, now with the Twins. They got away with it long enough for Gallo—who’d torn one through the right side of the infield for a base hit earlier—to hammer a 3-1 service into the right field bleachers.
I’m reasonably certain I’m not the only one who thinks commissioner Rob Manfred didn’t stop to think that there was a reason for games going well over three hours having nothing to do with the actual play and everything to do with broadcast dollars. It never seems to have occurred to him that it wasn’t pitcher or batter gamesmanship, but two-minute-plus broadcast commercials after every half inning and during mid-jam pitching changes.
It seems to have occurred to Commissioner ADD less that he and his bosses might have landed the same delicious dollars by just limiting the spots to before each full inning and adjusting the dollars accordingly. Since it’s been established long and well enough that Manfred’s true concept of the good of the game is making money for it, that should have been child’s play for anyone applying brains.
And, speaking of dollars, try not to delude yourselves that MLB’s new so-called Economic Reform Committee will be for the good of the game, either. How about the Committee to Horsewhip Owners Who Actually Spend on Their Teams and Want to Win? The Committee to Immunize the Bob Nuttings and Bob Castellinis and John Fishers From Their Economic Malfeasance?
Manfred has pleaded that oh, but of course he’s after nothing more and nothing less than “a crisp and exciting game.” He’s been bereft, apparently, of the sense that baseball’s flavors come as much from the tensions in its pauses as from the cracks of the bats, the thwumps! of the pitches into the catchers’ mitts, and the brainstormings on the field and in the stands during jams.
Thus far, the games are shorter—by a measly 22 minutes. But the potential for such unintended consequences as, at extreme, a World Series-ending strikeout on a pitch clock violation is almost as vast as Manfred couldn’t stand single games having become. Those supporting the new arbitrary havoc like to say Manfred merely scoped what “the fans” wanted. It’s not inappropriate to ask, “which fans?”
Think about this: Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal was fabled for an array of about sixteen different windups and ten different leg kicks, including the Rockettes-high kick that was his most familiar visual hallmark. The new pitch clock may actually come to erode the presence of pitchers who are that much fun to watch (I’m talking about you, Luis [Rock-a-Bye Samba] Garcia, among others) even if they’re not a barrel of laughs against whom to bat.
It might also erode the presence of batters who are as much fun before they swing as while they swing. What’s next—a base-running clock, mandating batters have x number of seconds before they’d better start hauling it around the bases on home runs? Oops. I’d better not go there. We don’t want to give Commissioner ADD any more brilliant ideas.
Note: This essay was published first by Sports-Central.