PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Whether Major League Baseball needs to be fixed is a debate that probably won’t be decided anytime soon. But there are modifications being made, and another round was announced yesterday, with the no-pitch intentional walk and a time limit on replays heading the list of alterations.
Against the backdrop of commissioner Rob Manfred’s threats to take a more aggressive stance on pace-of-game issues, even imposing unilateral changes for 2018, the Players Association agreed to a few of the proposals for the upcoming season. The most notable is the no-pitch walk, which allows a manager to simply signal the plate umpire to award first base to the batter.
Although the intentional walk takes less than a minute and occurs once every few games, it became one of the first dominoes to fall. Perhaps that’s because the procedure was the least difficult to remove from the game.
“It was part of the bigger package,” union chief Tony Clark said yesterday during his visit to the Mets’ spring training complex.
Also targeted was the video-review protocol, which both sides worked to streamline. Under the new agreement, there is a 30-second limit for a manager to decide to challenge using the replay system, and that doesn’t sit well with everyone. Terry Collins said yesterday it’s too small a window, with some plays needing at least a minute or more for a manager to figure out what to do. That will put more pressure on a team’s video crew to come up with a verdict.
“It is what it is,” Collins said. “We’ll move forward. We’re not going to have a definitive answer, but [they’ll] have to give us their best educational guess.”
Those changes should help to speed things up a bit, but the modifications won’t stop there. No longer will teams be allowed to map out their outfield positions with spray paint or other markers, as the Dodgers asked to do last year before the Mets refused them permission. MLB also has made an addition to Rule 5.07 that more strictly enforces the balk interpretation by stating that “a pitcher may not take a second step toward home plate with either foot or otherwise reset his pivot foot in his delivery of the pitch.”
And lastly, as an amendment to Rule 5.03, coaches must stay within their baseline boxes, except for when a ball is put in play, when they may leave to signal a player.
While none of these modifications should have a seismic effect, it’s only the beginning of a blueprint that is very much a work in progress, with the goal not only to speed up the game but to make it more appealing to the next generation of fans.
“There’s not a simple answer to it,” Clark said. “There are multiple levels to the conversation.”