Sam Donnellon: Committee looks at cutting game times

Philadelphia Daily NewsJuly 13, 2014 

Officially, Jorge Posada walked twice in the 2009 World Series. But to anyone watching, the frequent strolls to the mound by the Yankees catcher to calm his pitchers, slow opposition momentum and silence a raucous Citizens Bank Park crowd were enough to move the numbers on a pedometer.

In the pivotal Game 4, for example, Posada visited starting pitcher CC Sabathia eight times.

In one inning.

The Yankees won, 7-4, to take a 3-1 series lead.

Posada's liberal use - Phillies fans would argue misuse - of baseball's lax rules was so pronounced that commissioner Bud Selig pledged to form a committee to examine it and other pace-of-play matters during the offseason. Selig assembled a 14-member committee to do just that, conducted several interviews lamenting the same things the average fan lamented and then permanently changed ... nothing.

So here we are, five seasons later, waiting for catchers to return to their place behind home plate, waiting for Chase Utley to practice his swing even after he didn't swing, waiting for Ryan Howard to run through his familiar ritual between every pitch, waiting, waiting, waiting.

The average time of game in the American League this season hovers around 3 hours and 4 minutes. The average for National League games is just 3 minutes quicker.

"The Atlantic League is 3:02 and we think we can get it a few minutes under three hours," Pat Gillick was saying about the independent league during a phone interview from his Seattle home. "Realistically we're looking at cutting six, seven, eight minutes. To start."

Gillick recently joined a blue-ribbon panel of baseball lifers assembled by former Houston Astros president Tal Smith on behalf of the Atlantic League to examine ways to pick up the pace. It's an odd position, he admits, for someone still involved with a major league team - Gillick is still listed as a senior adviser to Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. - to be working on behalf of an independent league like the Atlantic. But there seems to be an unspoken understanding that the big leagues will be watching with great interest to see which recommendations are implemented and which ones succeed.

Plus, Gillick said, the committee is comprised of some of his oldest and dearest friends in the sport, guys like Sparky Lyle, Bud Harrelson, Cecil Cooper, Joe Klein and former Orioles GM Roland Hemond.

Guys who remember the 1970s, when the average length of a game was 2 1/2 hours.

"Once you get some things in place and see which ones work, then you go on," Gillick said. "I don't think the public wants to be sitting there for three hours. I think somewhere realistically, 2:40, 2:45. That would make us a more appealing game, I think."

What Gillick would like to see in place, to start, is simply better adherence to some existing rules. Rule 6.02 in the MLB rulebook, which also is used by the Atlantic League, is pretty specific about when hitters are allowed to leave the batter's box between pitches.

They cannot leave the box, the rule says, if they did not swing at the pitch just thrown.

Rule 8.04 mandates that the time between pitches can be no more than 12 seconds.

Just enforcing those two existing rules will eliminate a lot of needless down time. Not to mention, it would curtail some of the more notorious rabbit's foot rituals of hitters and pitchers.

"There's a lot of time taken with hitters doing that stuff," Gillick said. "They can get a sign from the third-base coach or they can get a sign from the manager without stepping out of the box."

But the No. 1 target, said Gillick, are those damn strolls made by the catcher, and the pitching coach, and the manager. Hell, these days, even middle infielders call timeout to visit the mound.

"One of the suggestions is to limit the number and also the time," Gillick said. "We're thinking about measures that are sort of like the NBA, where you have maybe one 20-second and one 40-second timeout. We'd have a time limit on how long they can go on the mound.

"For example if the pitching coach went out there we'd limit the discussion to 45 seconds. So he'd have to jog out instead of amble out, speak his piece and get back in 45 seconds. If the catcher comes out we would see that also as a trip to the mound the same as if he was the pitching coach ... And if the shortstop or somebody else goes to the mound that's got to be counted as a trip also."

On their website, the Atlantic League is asking fans for their input. Mine would limit the catcher to two consultations per pitcher or maybe even per inning. I'd make 'em stay in the box, limit to three the number of times a pitcher can throw over to an occupied base and enforce those existing rules more stringently.

Oh, and Gillick, himself once a minor league pitcher, has one more. His pet peeve. "The umpires have to call more strikes," he said. "There used to be a lot of umpires who would say, 'Hey, get in there, I'm calling anything close, be up there swinging.'

"I don't know if that's done anymore, but I think they should be encouraged to call more strikes. If they do hitters will swing at more pitches and the game will move quicker."

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