OT: MLB whiffs on new rule changes

The Minnesota Twins in a shift during a 2022 game against the Baltimore Orioles. Photo courtesy of Tommy Gilligan/Associated Press.

MATTHEW CRANE | SPORTS CO-EDITOR | mcrane@butler.edu

Overtime, or “OT,” is an opinion column series where the Collegian takes national sports headlines and gives them a Butler-centric angle.

It has been said throughout history that baseball is a dying sport and that radical changes need to occur to bring more engagement to the game. Yet, the sport has lived on and thrived since the National League was founded in 1876.

However, some retired players still involved in the game have said that baseball has a pace of play problem. Major League Baseball executives have been concerned that if a solution is not found in the near future, baseball would suffer from the consequences.

It certainly can be concluded that baseball does have a pace of play problem. The average game time for an MLB game has not been under three hours since 2015. Over the last few years, MLB has attempted to improve pace of play by implementing changes in the minor leagues in order to test their impact on the game. The minor leagues have now seen an inning break timer, a pitching change timer and a 20-second pitch timer added to their games in order to keep the games moving.

After years of the rules being tested in the minor leagues, MLB decided to take drastic action and go even further with additional changes for the major leagues.  

On Sept. 9, MLB announced sweeping rule changes that will take effect during the 2023 season. Some of the major ones include a pitch clock, a defensive restriction and bigger bases. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred discussed the reasoning behind the changes in a statement released by the league office.

“These steps are designed to improve pace of play, increase action, and reduce injuries, all of which are goals that have overwhelming support among our fans,” Manfred said in the statement.Throughout the extensive testing of recent years, Minor League personnel and a wide range of fans — from the most loyal to casual observers — have recognized the collective impact of these changes in making the game even better and more enjoyable.”

Manfred does make a solid point about reducing injuries with the switch to larger bases. The added space will allow players to have more room and should help reduce player collisions. 

Eventually, the pitch clock should end up being well-liked by the players once they get in rhythm to its usage. They will start to enjoy games ending quickly and being able to have more recovery time before their next start.

Senior sports media major Cory Bosecker is a left-handed pitcher on the Butler baseball team. He mentioned the intent to speed up the game and what he thinks will happen as the pitch clock is first implemented.

“They’re trying to get more fans involved in the game by speeding it up,” Bosecker said. “I think the pitch clock is going to help that, but it’s definitely going to hurt some pitchers that like to work slow. It will cause some problems at first as pitchers adjust, but I think it will be an overall benefit to the game.”

With the changes, there are some that have been criticized and will be scrutinized for their impact during the upcoming season.

While Bosecker had positive things to say about the pitch clock, he does not like the new pick-off rule that is a part of the pace of play initiative. 

“I’m not a fan of the pick-off rule at all,” Bosecker said. “If you pick over two times, then if you do it a third time, you have to get them out, or else they get a base. I think it’s pretty stupid, and now pitchers will have a tougher time holding runners. I think holding runners is an important part of the game and an important strategy, and now it gets taken away.”

The pick-off rule is just the start of the ridiculous rule changes that water down the game. The banning of the shift is another one. Baseball has continually helped hitters over time, with the moving of the mound to 60 feet and six inches in 1893 and with the lowering of the mound in 1968 because of the dominance of pitchers like Bob Gibson. With defenses unable to shift, hitters will be helped even more as outs start turning into base hits.

Even worse, the rule will force two infielders to be on either side of second base, and all four infielders will have to have both feet in the infield dirt when the pitcher is on the rubber. This will force infielders to change their pre-pitch routines. Middle infielders are used to starting in the outfield grass and working their way into the infield. Now, as they start on the dirt, they will potentially be even closer to the batter, which puts them at a disadvantage.

These changes are what has become customary of a commissioner that famously called the World Series trophy “a piece of metal.

Manfred has never kept the players, who are actively playing the game and ushering it forward, at the top of mind. Rob Manfred claims that the changes are for the purpose of improving pace of play. Instead, the main goal of the rule changes is to bring revenue back to the game by boosting fan attendance at games, which we all know will end up going to the people in charge: the owners of all 32 teams and Manfred himself. 

Unsurprisingly, the player representatives for the Major League Baseball Players Association MLBPA voted unanimously against the pitch clock and the shift rules, but were outvoted by the owners.

The MLBPA released their own statement shortly after MLB’s announcement and acknowledged the changes with some critiques. 

“Players live the game — day in and day out,” the MLBPA said in a statement on Twitter. “On-field rules and regulations impact their preparation, performance, and ultimately, the integrity of the game itself. Major League Baseball was unwilling to meaningfully address the areas of concern that Players raised.”

That statement epitomizes what baseball has become under Manfred. A serious lack of leadership and communication led to a lockout this season from Dec. 2, 2021 until March 10, 2022, with both sides far apart in negotiations regarding the competitive bargaining agreement. It also led players to take to Twitter to vent their frustrations with the commissioner. Fans do not respect Manfred, and neither do players.

The only thing keeping Manfred safe is the MLB team owners. They are the people he serves as he further alienates and neglects the players that he oversees. 

Whatever lines the pockets of the owners seems to be Manfred’s only true goal. By continuing to push unwanted agendas like these asinine rule changes, he is undoubtedly inching closer and closer to becoming the most hated commissioner in baseball history.

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