CHARLOTTE, NC – Every year baseball’s gurus gathers to discuss rules changes that will somehow magically update the sport to satisfy the needs of the 21st-century fan. More often than not they make an adjustment — such as trying to speed up the action — that does nothing to enhance the game. Instead, they alter it in a way that chips away at the game’s character and integrity. Like rules involving a time clock and what to do if a catcher drops a third strike.
If trivial interventions like these proliferate, baseball as we once knew it could become unrecognizable. Worse than that however, the game will still end up too slow.
Most of the modern rule tampering action centers around pitchers. Mainly because they control the pace of the contest. Problem is, true baseball fans love the delicious cat and mouse game-within-a-game confrontations between pitchers and batters. After all, at its purest, baseball actually resembles a massive game of chess played out on a lush green carpet. During each game’s leisurely action, grown men relive their childhoods.
But even better, major league team owners handsomely compensate them for their fantasies with salaries in the millions of dollars. That’s a nuance today’s casual ADD sports fans cannot grasp… and never will.
Experimenting with a pitching time clock: A “new” rule that already exists
Currently, baseball ia experimenting with a time clock applied to minor league pitchers. The sport wants to see how applying a time clock might help speed up the game before adopting such a dramatic change in the Majors.
But here’s the dirty little secret that even the savviest fans don’t know about. Umps never enforce the rule. Why? Official baseball rules already designate the maximum time permitted between pitches. And, believe it or not, the currently permitted maximum time is considerably shorter than the present minor league experiment. Let’s check it out.
“Section 5.07 (c)
(c) Pitcher Delays When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. (Emphasis added) Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call “Ball.”
“The 12-second timing starts when the pitcher is in possession of the ball and the batter is in the box, alert to the pitcher. The timing stops when the pitcher releases the ball.
“The intent of this rule is to avoid unnecessary delays. The umpire shall insist that the catcher return the ball promptly to the pitcher, and that the pitcher take his position on the rubber promptly. Obvious delay by the pitcher should instantly be penalized by the umpire.”
Oddly enough, if umpires did enforce the rule as written, some games could, and would, drag on for four or five hours. That would be the result of all the automatic balls and walks that would interrupt the natural flow and rhythm of a game.
How about the “third strike rule”?
Moving on from the time clock issue, how about another quirky rule that every fan or player knows about, but has no clue about its origin? This “third strike rule” is why a batter can still try to run to first when the catcher drops the third strike. When you read the explanation for this third strike rule, you may actually agree that this is one time the rules committee got things right.
How do you call the play?
Suppose a batter is standing at the plate with a 2-2 count, 2 outs and the bases loaded. As tension builds, the pitcher hits the corner of the plate with his fastball. The batter checks his swing, but the pitch gets by the catcher.
Under the most typical situations, the batter and/or the catcher ask the home plate umpire to check with the first or third base ump. They want another official to verify whether what just happened was a swing or a ball. The latter would run the count to 3 and 2. In either case, ball or a strike, the base runners may advance at their own risk, and a runner can be tagged out or score.
However, if the ump rules the pitch was a swing and thus the third strike, the batter needs to get on his horse and race to first. That enables his teammate on third to score, while everyone else moves ahead at least 90 feet.
A home plate umpire in this and other similar situations does not have the luxury of conferencing with a fellow official. He must respond instantaneously or remain forever hated by both teams. Therefore the “dropped third strike rule” does have the purpose of providing home plate umpires with a bit of backup cover.
One final note, according to the third strike rule, a batter is not allowed to run on a dropped third strike if first base is occupied with less than two outs. The rule only applies when there is a man on first, on first and second, or on first, second, and third with two outs.
OK, COVID, you’ve wiped out a third of the baseball season, But now it’s high time to PPPLLLAAAAAYYY BBBAAAALLLL! Quirks and all.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.