Sure, it’s early, but Rob Manfred is the clear front-runner for Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year, Time’s Person of the Year and the Nobel Peace Prize.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is a given. He also deserves an Emmy.
Put simply: The Major League Baseball commissioner’s new pitch clock — aka stay-in-the-darn-batter’s box clock — is genius, and it could save baseball.
It is too soon to say how this will play out in the regular season, when umpires figure to be a tad more lenient and players far more uptight.
But based on the evidence early in spring training, and from the minor leagues last season, this will be life-changing.
The Yankees beat Atlanta on Sunday in a crisp 2:16, and games are averaging less than 2:40 overall.
(Flip side: On Saturday, Atlanta tied Boston, 6-6, when Cal Conley was called for a batter violation with the bases loaded and a 3-and-2 count in the bottom of the ninth.)
If, conservatively, the 15-second clock (20 with runners on base) shaves 20 minutes off the average game, that comes to 54 hours over 162 games.
That is two days-plus of our lives Manfred has returned to us, not to mention the mental health benefits of not watching batters repeatedly adjust their gloves.
For years, defenders of baseball’s glacial pace have blamed short-attention-span millennials and Gen-Zers for not appreciating the game’s unhurried nuance.
Poppycock. It’s not just them, it’s all of us.
I am an expert on grumpy baseball fans over 60, and approximately 100% of those I have spoken to about this were fed up with the game’s modern pace.
So the clock is good. Getting rid of extreme defensive shifts is good. Bigger bases are good.
(OK, ghost runners in extra innings are a little weird; we used to think that was too cheesy for our 50-and-over softball league.)
This is the best baseball rules change since . . . well, at least since my birth.
I am not quite old enough for some of the doozies in the 19th century, such as when overhand pitching was allowed in 1884.
(Even that had pros and cons. It started the evolution from defense ruling the game to pitchers dominating.)
The bigger question is where the pitch clock ranks among all sports rules changes of the past half-century or so.
The NHL drastically improved its product after the 2004-05 lockout, notably eliminating the red line for two-line passes.
Tie games also were done away with in that wave of change.
Hockey is the only sport among the traditional Big Four whose game is undeniably better than it was a generation ago.
The NBA introduced the three-point line in 1979. It was fun as a novelty. No one foresaw a day when the sport would become a three-point shooting contest.
The NFL has made strides in protecting players, but one byproduct has been confusion and consternation when it comes to calls such as roughing the passer.
College basketball instituted a shot clock in 1985 — first at 45 seconds, later 35 and 30 — an undeniable positive.
The biggest change across all sports, of course, has been the use of video replay to review officials’ calls, which has been a mixed blessing, to put it mildly.
To broaden the discussion a bit, where does the Manfred Clock rank among all of humanity’s inventions and discoveries?
I would place it slightly behind the wheel, printing press, penicillin and Pop-Tarts but ahead of gunpowder, nuclear fission, smartphones and Peeps.
As for baseball, it will be 50 years on April 6 since Ron Blomberg became the first designated hitter in the major leagues.
At the time, it was a rule that purists loathed. But over a half-century, most folks came around, to the point that it now is universal and widely accepted.
Will the same be said of the pitch clock 50 years hence? We needn’t wait that long. It is a good idea already.