Oh yeah, this is going to turn out well…
In the Boston Red Sox’s first Spring Training game, played with the new pitch-clock rules that will be followed this season, home plate umpire John Libka ruled that Atlanta Braves prospect Cal Conley was not in the batters box and “alert” to Sox pitcher Robert Kwiatkowski at the required eight-second mark. This mandated that an automatic strike be called. The automatic strike came at a 3-2 count with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth, with the score tied 6-6.
That ended the inning, and, since there are no extra innings in spring exhibition games, the game. The final score was 6-6.Neither Conley, nor the fans watching, nor the Red Sox, nor either team’s broadcasters had a clue what had happened.
The new pitch timer rule requires pitchers to take no more than 15 seconds to begin their delivery with the bases empty and 20 seconds with runners on base. The batter must also be in the batter’s box and “alert” to the pitcher—meaning ready to swing— at the eight-second mark. Thus the pitcher clock is also a hitter clock.
Morgan Sword, MLB’s executive vice president of baseball operations, recently called the pitch clock “probably the biggest change that’s been made in baseball in most of our lifetimes.” If it decides many games by cutting off rallies with the bases loaded, I suspect fans might be calling it something else.
Making material changes to the rules of a successful enterprise after many decades is something that should not be undertaken precipitously or with a “well, let’s see how it works out!” attitude. Such changes, if made, must also be communicated clearly and widely to the public, which MLB has not done in this case.
I see strong analogies to, for example, the 2020 mail-in ballot rules, among other public policy innovations.
Baseball, after all, is Life.