How latest Astros series further confirms MLB actually got something right
I went to the Astros vs. Texas Rangers game Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park. It was a tense game, right down to the final out, between the first and second place teams in the American League West.
The ballpark was packed with 40,520 fans. You could feel the tension. There was a palpable, playoff atmosphere with fans hanging on every pitch, right down to the final out with Kyle Tucker making a leaping catch to preserve the Astros victory.
Plus it was Dollar Dog Night. Don’t ever underestimate the ability of cheap processed meat to put butts in seats.
The game started on time at 7:10 p.m. and Tucker’s grab came two hours and 20 minutes later. The post-game show was still on AT&T SportsNet when I got back to my summer home in West U.
Left the house at 6:30 p.m., home before the 10 o’clock news. This is baseball in 2023 and that’s how the game should be played. It’s a faster, more exciting product with less dawdling and in-between downtime.
Thanks to new rules this year – the pitch clock, no shift and bigger bases – batting averages are up, scoring is up, and stolen bases are up.
Most important, stadium attendance is up (8 percent across MLB) and the time of games is down (28 minutes to be exact). Also, and this is significant to the game’s future, younger fans have returned to the ballpark in 2023.
Pitchers now have 15 seconds to start their delivery when bases are empty, and 20 seconds with runners on base. Hitters must be in the batter’s box before the pitch clock winds down to eight seconds. Pitchers are limited to two pickoff attempts or step-offs per batter. There is a 30-second timer between batters.
Despite some griping from players during spring training, players have adjusted to the new rules and the majority of games are played without a single infraction.
With all the benefits of shorter games and greater attendance, you’d think players would be celebrating the new rules. In the long run, it’s the players who benefit most from baseball’s resurgent popularity.
Except … nope. The executive director of the Major League Players Association says he’s hearing from players that they’d like the pitch clock slowed down for the playoffs, when baseball is on its grandest stage with the largest number of fans watching.
In other words, let’s go back to a slower game, the very thing that was causing baseball to lose fans in droves.
Or as the comic strip Pogo once put it … “We have met the enemy and it is us.”
Whatever happened to give ‘em what they want and the customer is always right? The baseball consumer clearly likes shorter games and a more exciting brand of baseball.
Does anybody want to turn the clock back to Nomar Garciaparra adjusting his batting gloves between every pitch? To Derek Jeter stepping out of the batter’s box to take practice swings between pitches? To pitchers going on leisurely strolls behind the mound or making five, six, seven pickoff attempts on the same runner? Mike Hargrove took so much time fidgeting with his gloves and uniform at bat that he was known as the “Human Rain Delay.”
Watching players tighten and re-tighten their batting gloves is like going to a classic rock concert and the singer says, “Now I’m going to do a few songs from my new album.” Stop it! Nobody wants you to do that!
There’s no need for all that adjusting and below-the-belt scratching these days. There have been great advancements in Velcro technology and Lotrimin jock itch cream is new and improved.
Fortunately, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, in a rare popular decision, says he is reluctant to change pitch clock rules for the post-season. He needs to save the game - and the players from themselves.