From The Ethics Alarms Incompetence Files, Baseball Section, Unanticipated Consequences Tab

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.

How exciting!

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.

8 thoughts on “From The Ethics Alarms Incompetence Files, Baseball Section, Unanticipated Consequences Tab

  1. And, should THOSE calls be subject to booth review, like the robo-calling of balls and strikes.

    Yeah, THAT will speed up the game.

    Baseball is just not conducive to any kind of clock.

    Maybe give the batter 10 seconds to get in the box and the pitcher can throw to an empty box if the batter is not in position.

    Alert? That is such a squishy standard. If you are in the box, you better expect a pitch.

    That creates a whole new dynamic though.

    Did I say that baseball is not conducive to a clock?


      • I’m totally in favor of robo calls. They may be a little wrong sometimes, but not any more than ump calls are over the course of a game. And at least they’ll be consistent. You won’t have a competent ump one night and Angel Hernandez or C.B. Bucknor the nest.

  2. I think most sports could be helped with the introduction of time clocks to stop time wasters wasteing the audience’s time. They have time clocks in tennis and cricket. They are introducing it into rugby to make the goal kickers hurry up. In a 12 year old girls high jump on Sunday one girl kept on running in and either because she was nervous of the bar height or thought she had her run in wrong, kept on circling back a number of times to try again. She finally lost the tie break when the clock ran out and I had to raise the red flag.

  3. I stumbled on to the Yankees (or some of them, or some of their prospects) playing the Phillies (or some of them or some of their minor leaguers) on an MLB network broadcast. I think it might have been on the first day of spring training. Man, the game moved along SWIFTLY. It wasn’t before a few innings had passed that the announcers even made reference to and yacked a little about the time clock. Frankly, I’m all for it. No more J.D. Martinez velcroing his batting gloves and taking a big breath and exhaling and kissing his thumb. That’s reason enough for the rule for me. The game just zipped by. I don’t think one pitch was shaken off by the pitcher. No time, I guess. Fine by me. Hey! And no infield shifts. Hooray. The ball got put in play a lot.

  4. Soccer has managed to keep the game going without the introduction of anti-time-wasting clocks, but it depends on the ref calling out time wasters and giving out cards when that happens.

    I think baseball would have been better served by something like that, and it would avoid this in critical situations like the end-of-game strikeout in this episode. After a couple of warning strikes (and whatever the penalty is for pitchers) everyone would have the game moving along at a good pace. Only to have it later broken by TV ad downtime.

    • Alex, Mrs. OB has become an EPL fanatic (Liverpool, or more accurately, Jurgen Klopp), so we watch a lot of soccer. The running clock is really funny. Can you imagine an American football game or any basketball game going with running time? I can’t. Time remaining is so, so critical to those sports. I assume some assistant referee keeps track of dead time and adds it up to determine the amount of added time. But it’s just pretty darned quaint. I love the way a team is allowed to finish a possession before the final whistles are blown. Very sporting. Also, it’s hilarious the way the supporters of the team leading whistle throughout the entirety of added time alleging it’s too long.

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