Since he took over as Major League Baseball commissioner, Rob Manfred has made one thing clear: The game needs to be faster. He took yet another step toward accomplishing his goal Thursday, sending a revised pace-of-play proposal to the players.
Under the new proposal, Manfred would delay a pitch clock in 2018, but only if the players accepted his new deal. If they don’t, he’ll use his power as commissioner to unilaterally implement pitch clocks.
After game times jumped to a record three hours and eight minutes in 2017, Manfred has finally decided to take action. Now, it’s up to the players to decide whether they’ll accept his compromise, or whether he’ll have to take drastic steps to force it on them.
Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz knows where he stands on the issue.
“The game needs to be played quicker,” Smoltz told Yahoo Sports. “It has to be played quicker.”
He would know. For 21 years, Smoltz threw off a major-league mound every fifth day — and sometimes more frequently — as he starred with the Atlanta Braves during their incredible run of 14 straight division titles.
His playing days might be over, but he still remains highly involved with the game. Smoltz has been an analyst with MLB Network since 2010, and has also been in the booth calling games at TBS and Fox.
Smoltz played through a number of significant changes during his career. He saw the league add teams, introduce a wild-card playoff format and implement the replay review system. Every one of those proposals was met with hesitancy and caution from both players and fans, but after a while, people got used to it.
That’s exactly what Smoltz believes will happen with the new pace-of-play rules.
“We look back and we don’t even recognize the rule changes anymore because they become — after you hear some small outcry — they become part of the game,” Smoltz told Yahoo Sports.
There are some additional conditions to Manfred’s new deal. If the players agree to it, and are able to cut average game times down to two hours and 55 minutes, Manfred won’t discuss bringing a pitch clock to the majors in 2019 either. That would be a 13-minute improvement from last season.
While that much of an improvement might be tough, Manfred’s latest offer does not appear as harsh as the one the players rejected weeks ago. According to our own Jeff Passan, the old policy would have introduced a 20-second pitch clock both with the bases empty and with runners on.
The league also wanted to cut down on mound visits. Any time a coach or manager goes to the mound, or a pitcher leaves the mound to speak with another player, that counts as a visit. The next time that happens during the inning, that pitcher must leave the game. It’s unclear whether Manfred’s new offer included a different approach to mound visits.
The new pace-of-play rules would alter the game, but perhaps not to the extent of league expansion and completely overhauling the postseason.
While some of those proposals seem harsh, Smoltz believes players will be able to overcome the changes if they are willing to put in the time.
“All the things that existed a long time ago are now given to younger players with less emphasis on trying to figure out by themselves and working it out,” he said. “You have to work at it.
“Players have to learn to play the game a little bit faster. Organizations are going to have to learn how to train the players in a way that eliminates these mound visits. You’re going to have to work a little harder to get your job done.”
That extra work is worth it in Smoltz’s mind. The games have gotten longer. Regular season games routinely exceeded three hours, while some postseason games went much longer.
That commitment makes it tough to keep viewers engaged. And that becomes particularly excruciating when a pitcher who takes an eternity to throw a pitch comes into a game that is already plodding along.
That, sometimes, is even too much for Smoltz.
“You’ve got some guys who are just so historically slow it just makes you angry,” he said. “It’s like, come on, you’ve got to learn how to do it quicker than that. This is not your moment to have everybody sit around watching you take your time.”
When the glacial pace of the game is too much for someone whose life has been about baseball: Someone who not only played the game, but chose to observe and provide analysis on it as a broadcaster, that’s a concern.
Though Manfred’s solution has been met with opposition early on, Smoltz believes it will all be fine in time.
“It’s not that big a deal,” he said. “I promise you.”
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