By Brian Hoffman, Sports Editor
The new Major League Baseball season is here and the question everyone keeps asking is, “How do you like the new rules?” For the most part, it seems like most people like them.
The game is definitely moving along faster. Through the first weekend the games have been an average of 20 minutes shorter than in previous years, and they’re still longer than an average basketball game so that’s still plenty of ball game to watch.
The difference isn’t so much the length of the game, but the quality of the game you’re watching. There’s more action with less “down time” between pitches, and that was really the point of contention when people were saying the games were boring. No one wants to see a pitcher walk around the mound and rub up a ball, or a batter step out of the box between every pitch and adjust his gloves, helmet and whatever he’s wearing under his uniform pants. Not fun.
With the new rules the batter has to be in that box and the pitcher has to be ready to serve it up or there will be consequences. Here’s a couple observations I had in the first games of the season.
I was watching a game on opening day, and you know where they list the score, count, outs, batter and pitcher in a corner of your television screen? Well, on opening day that bit of information also included the clock counting down for the pitcher. I found that to be extremely distracting while watching the game.
The next game I watched, on a different network, didn’t have that and I really didn’t pay attention to the pitch clock unless the umpire called an infraction. That was much better, in my mind, as far as enjoying the game.
And another thing. I’m watching the ESPN Sunday night game between the Phillies and Rangers. Trea Turner of the Phillies is on first and takes off for second. He gets a great jump and surely has the base stolen, but the pitcher doesn’t start his motion in time and the umpire behind the plate calls time as Turner is running for second. A “ball” is called on the batter and Turner has to go back to first.
To me, this is helping the team that was supposed to be penalized. If I’m the pitcher I’d much rather have a ball called than have the runner advance a base. If that’s how it’s going to work, and I’m the pitcher, I’m going to hold the ball until the clock goes off if I think the runner got a great jump at first and won’t be thrown out. Unless there are three balls on the batter at the time, I’m sending that runner back to first. That’s something they’re going to have to look at.
As far as the larger bases, they really don’t look any larger to me while watching on TV. The Salem Red Sox had the larger bases last year and I never would have known if I hadn’t known.
The bases are three inches wider on each side, and that’s supposed to help the would-be base stealers because it’s an extra three inches they don’t have to cover. I’ve heard that a bunch of times but, honestly, how many times is that three inches going to make a difference? Hold your fingers three inches apart and tell me, with a straight face, that’s going to make a big difference.
I do think it will be safer for the first basemen, who will have less of a chance of getting stomped on by a runner heading for first. Then again, if they really want to make that safer then use the double-bag deals like they do in slow-pitch softball, where the first baseman stands on one bag and the runner can step on the adjoining one.
Finally, I love the rule that says two fielders must be on each side of second base and have their feet in the dirt. I hated those shifts. I got so tired of seeing a batter smoke one up the middle and the shortstop is right there behind the bag, or a left-hander drilling a ball that should be a base hit, only to have a “short fielder” field it for an out. There are balls that are struck that are supposed to be hits from the time you play Little League ball, and I felt like those batters were getting cheated.
Now, I heard that some teams are considering moving the leftfielder into short right when a left-handed, “dead pull,” hitter comes to the plate. That’s somewhat circumventing the new rules, but apparently there’s no rule against it. Hopefully, there will be next summer.
All in all, I think folks like the new rules. I, for one, never complained about a baseball game being too long. When I was a kid and went to Phillies games at old Connie Mack Stadium I tried to get my dad to take me the ballpark when there was a double-header. Back in those days you paid one price for two games, like you do in the Carolina League now, only the big league games were nine innings each instead of seven like the Salem Red Sox play. And, when the second game was over, I found myself still wanting more. My dad didn’t, but I did.
All in all, I give the new rules two thumbs up. And if one of the thumbs gets you a stolen base because the bag is three inches closer, then so be it.