Back in May, the Southeastern Conference made headlines when it announced it would be experimenting with a pitch clock during the conference tournament.
Now, the NCAA could make the innovation mandatory across all baseball games.
The SEC introduced the clock in an effort to combat one of baseball's most unique and infuriating aspects: The fact that it is untimed.
In almost every other sport, you now exactly how long each game will take. Even a test match in cricket takes no longer than five days.
Baseball is different. The shortest MLB game this season was Armando Galarraga’s perfect game that wasn’t, at just one hour, 44 minutes.
The longest, on the other hand, was the Mets and Cardinals epic seven-hour duel. Obviously, that’s just the nature of the beast. You cannot do anything about that without allowing games to end in ties.
Earlier this year, umpire Joe West called the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees a "disgrace to baseball" because their games took so long. But it’s not necessarily the length of the games that is so frustrating, but rather what causes them to be so long.
The constant delays from both teams can really hold up a game. Coaches visit the mound, batter steps up, pitcher gets sign, holds ball, batter gets time, steps out, steps in again, pitcher gets sign, delivers, batter steps out, catcher goes to mound. Lather, rinse, repeat.
You can go several minutes without a pitch even being thrown. Many have no problem whatsoever with this, it’s part of what makes baseball so special.
But the esteemed Mr. West has a problem with it. So, it seems, did the SEC.
That gave birth to the pitch clock. The rule said that the pitcher must deliver the ball within 20 seconds, unless there are runners on base.
The break between innings must be shorter than 90 seconds for non-televised games, and 108 seconds for televised ones.
If a pitcher goes over the 20 seconds, he gets a warning. The second time he does it, a ball is added to the count. If a batter steps out with fewer than five seconds left, he gets a warning the first time, then a strike added the next.
If either team isn’t ready after the changeover between innings, they are similarly given a ball or strike.
During the SEC tournament, there wasn’t a single infraction, and the average length of a game was two hours and 43 minutes.
In last year’s tournament, the average was three hours and 17 minutes. The games were over half an hour faster, and there wasn’t a single violation of the new rules.
With newfound success, the next logical step was for the NCAA to adopt the pitch clock across all conferences, which it is set to do if the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel gives it the go-ahead.
Then, the next step would be to introduce it in professional baseball.
When you look at it, it is very tempting to say that it is a great idea. It would speed up the game, which could bring ratings back up, and increasing revenue. Surely that’s all good.
Additionally, it doesn’t disrupt the games, it just removes the gratuitous preparations that have become the trademark of Jonathan Papelbon, et al.
Yes, baseball purists—the sort of people who don’t want instant replay because they like the "human element" of the game—will oppose the idea with every fibre of their being. However, there really doesn’t seem to be that much of a downside. Except one.
It won’t work.
Sure, it works perfectly well at a collegiate level—the SEC tournament has proved that—but in the Majors, there is much more with which to contend.
For starters, there’s the fact that all 2,430 games are televised. Advertisements are crammed into every available spot already. Neither the advertisers nor MLB will be happy to cut down the number of commercials.
Secondly, there is the organisation which is in large part responsible for the league not yet having HGH testing: the MLB Players Union. The union will say that the rule infringes on a player’s right to prepare for a pitch in whichever way he sees fit, and could unfairly penalize those pitchers working with new catchers.
Also, the union won’t like the fact that the count would be changed as a penalty, which could impact statistics, which could potentially impact new contracts.
The clock faces more obstacles at the Major League level than it does with the NCAA.
It may not be as drastic a change as the introduction of the Designated Hitter was 40 years ago, or the lengthening of the season to 162 games, but with MLB set up as it is now, the fact is there is no room for the pitch clock.
That said, if it were brought in, at the very least it should shut up Joe West for a while.