Ridge Runner Chronicles – February 1, 2023
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Are You Ready for Some Baseball?
By Bill Hoagland
Major League Baseball is about ready to start again. But this year won’t be like last year or any of the 100 plus years before that because there are some new rules that the traditional, purist MLB fans have to either accept or get out of the batter’s box.
There are three basic changes this year: a ban on defensive shifts on the infield, a pitch clock and an enlarged base. The enlarged base simply means the bags utilized for first, second and third base will be bigger primarily for safety reasons, but this change will also result in more stolen bases. The ban on defensive shifts in the infield basically prohibits those drastic shifts for a particular hitter that we have seen on an increasing basis over the past few years thanks to baseball analytics. Under the new rule, two infielders must always be positioned on the third base side of second base and two infielders must always be positioned on the first base side of second base. This rule change is projected to result in higher batting averages, more baserunners and a much more active game. The third change, the pitch clock, is the most controversial for baseball purists so let’s take a closer look.
Basically, the pitch clock is an attempt to speed up the game. Here are the specifics: if there are no runners on base, the pitcher must throw the pitch within 15 seconds from the time he touches the pitching rubber. If there are runners on base, the time is expanded to 20 seconds. If the pitcher does not throw to the plate within these time limits, the failure to pitch within the time limit will result in a penalty against the pitcher—a called ball even if he doesn’t throw. There are also requirements from the batter’s standpoint. The batter, once he gets in the batter’s box, must be in the batter’s box for the last 8 seconds of the 15 second pitch count-down or there will be a called strike against the batter. There are also some restrictions on how many times the pitchers can throw to pick off a runner; the pitcher can only throw two times per batter to pick off a runner without incurring a penalty. If the pitcher does throw to pick off a runner, this resets the pitch clock (I am glossing over some other sub-rules for lack of space, but you get the idea.)
You may be surprised to learn that these rules have been in place for several years at the minor league level as an experiment to see what fans and players there think of them. The pitch clock has really made a difference; the average length of a game at the minor league level has been reduced by about 30 minutes. And based on polling data from fans and players who have now experienced these new rules at the minor league level, 80% of those polled are in favor of the changes.
I am a traditional baseball fan and not inclined to favor anything that changes that tradition. It is said that we traditionalists love the “strategy” of the game. Really? I suspect that most baseball traditionalists are also “senior citizens”—folks who have a hard time staying awake for an entire night game (“strategy” is fine in principle, but when we get into the later innings, the TV is getting turned off—we have had enough “strategy” for one night, thank you very much).
When it was announced last year that the National League would switch to the designated batter in 2022, I was initially disappointed, but honestly, I found the game just as enjoyable even without the missing “strategy.” Maybe you don’t miss the “strategy” that much either. And if we purists are realistic about this, we have to recognize that over the past few years, with multiple pitchers on every team throwing in excess of 100 miles per hour, and infielders in the outfield during a shift, the game is not the same game it was twenty years ago, when batting averages were higher, strikeouts were fewer, and stolen bases were much higher. In other words, we really don’t have that “traditional” game we grew up loving any more. In short, I think these changes for 2023 will improve the game for most fans and move it closer to the way it used to be—yes, in spite of the pitch clock.
■ Bill Hoagland has practiced law in Alton for more than 50 years, but he has spent more than 70 years hunting, fishing and generally being in the great outdoors. His wife, Annie, shares his love of the outdoor life. Much of their spare time is spent on their farm in Calhoun County. Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.