There’s no clock in baseball.
But that age-old distinction could change if Major League Baseball implements new rules designed to speed up play. And some Marlins prospects and coaches have become lab rats in the league’s attempt to reduce the time it takes to complete nine innings.
“As a baseball guy, having a clock on the field is very hard to swallow,” bemoaned Andy Haines, a Marlins minor-league manager who has been involved in a league experiment aimed at finding ways to speed things up.
Don’t look now, but a scoreboard timer could become the next new gadget.
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That’s because the average length of a big-league game last season was a dawdling 3 hours 8 minutes — an all-time record. Three decades ago, before hitters began fidgeting with batting gloves out of routine and pitchers took their sweet time, they were 30 minutes shorter on average.
With younger fans switching to other sports and hobbies that provide more action and consume less time, the league is searching for ways to speed up play to win some back.
As a result, Haines is managing a team of prospects in the Arizona Fall League, a development league that MLB is using to test out an assortment of new rules designed to keep things moving.
▪ Requiring hitters to keep at least one foot inside the batter’s box at all times.
▪ Allowing pitchers no more than 20 seconds to throw a pitch. If they’re late, a ball is called automatically.
▪ Allowing managers to intentionally walk hitters simply by notifying the home plate umpire. No pitches necessary.
▪ Reducing the number of mound conferences to a maximum of three per team.
▪ Limiting the time between half innings to 2 minutes 30 seconds.
Haines, whose Salt River Rafters play at the only ballpark with the 20-second clock in the six-team fall league, has mixed feelings about the rules. Some he likes, like the automatic awarding of the base on an intentional walk. Others he doesn’t, such as the 20-second pitch clock.
“It’s just more complex having a clock there,” Haines said of the 20-second timer, which is affixed to the outfield wall in left.
Haines said a few pitchers have had trouble adapting to the time limitation. For example, the clock continues to run when a pitcher steps off the rubber to look a runner back to first. And if a catcher senses that a runner standing on second is stealing signs and wants to go talk it over with his pitcher, forget it. The clock will expire and a ball will be called.
“You respect the initiative they’re taking,” Haines said. “The pace of the game has become an issue, and they need to take the initiative to try some things out. This is Major League Baseball’s place to experiment. You don’t want to do it in a major-league stadium.”
But Haines said the clock brings potential risk and controversy.
What if a game is decided because of the clock?
“I can’t imagine that in a big spot in the game, a guy gets a bases-loaded walk to win the game because the clock ran out [and a ball is called],” Haines said. “The clock’s an issue because you don’t want major-league teams winning games on a technicality.”
On the other hand, Haines likes the rule requiring hitters to keep a foot in the box at all times.
Which rules the league ends up implementing remains to be seen.
“I’m glad I’m not the one who has to figure it out for them,” Haines said.
The Marlins have long resisted granting no-trade protection to its players. Only pitcher Javier Vazquez during the Jeffrey Loria ownership regime managed to coerce the Marlins into awarding him that contractual right, and that was only because his deal was for just one year.
But if the Marlins hope to convince Giancarlo Stanton into agreeing to a long-term extension, they know they might have to soften their stance and make an exception for their prized slugger.
“It’s been a long-standing policy, but you’re talking about a tremendous talent,” acknowledged Michael Hill, Marlins president of baseball operations, in a group media session on Tuesday. “You look at the marketplace and what other elite players have gotten ... it’ll definitely be a topic of discussion.”
With the exception of Vazquez, the Marlins have steadfastly refused to grant no-trade protection to any of their free agent signings. Just ask Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle, who were shipped off to Toronto just one year after working out multiyear deals. It was that 2012 firestorm, recall, that angered not only the Miami fan base, but one notable Marlins player in particular: Stanton.
Now, in order to get a deal done with the star outfielder, the Marlins are fully aware they might have to give in on their anti-no-trade policy.
“Not to get any specifics about anything,” Hill said of ongoing contract talks with Stanton. “But we want the player to be a Marlin, and whenever that time comes and you get into the details of it, it’s something that [the team will examine].”