Ask not for whom the clock tolls; it may yet toll at the worst of wrong moments

San Diego slugger Manny Machado has an 11-year contract extension worth $350 million.Photo byRyan Casey Aguinaldo, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0

By Jeff Kallman

Quick—name the first player to earn an eleven-year, $350 million contract extension for opening spring training’s exhibition season with an 0-1 count on him without actually beginning a plate appearance.

When San Diego third baseman Manny Machado opened against Seattle’s Robbie Ray with that count before Ray even threw him a pitch, he ran afoul of the new pitch clock. He had to be in the batter’s box when the clock struck eight seconds. Oops. 

Don’t spoil my mad fun by reminding me that of course he didn’t land that glandular extension for running afoul of the clock, never mind that he went 2-for-2 during his four innings’ play in the game. Don’t spoil Machado’s mad fun, either.

“I’m going to have to make a big adjustment,” the further-wealthy third baseman laughed after that game. “I might be 0-1 down a lot this year. It’s super fast. It’s definitely an adjustment period.” That may prove the understatement of the spring, if not the season.

As of Wednesday, according to the invaluable Jayson Stark, the average game time through that day was two hours and 39 minutes, as opposed to three hours and 60 seconds at the same point last spring. In 65 spring games through Wednesday, too, there were 113 pitch clock violations (85 on pitchers, 28 on hitters); or, 1.74 per game, about the same as Week One in the minor leagues’ regular season last year.

Machado may have been amused to open a game 0-1 on a pitch clock violation, but Braves middle infielder Cal Conley was anything but amused to end one on one. 

Especially since the Braves scored three in the ninth and had the bases loaded when Conley, with a full count, ran afoul of the eight-second batter’s box deadline and was rung up for automatic strike three.

Especially, too, since Conley started toward first thinking he’d been handed an RBI walk because Red Sox pitcher Robert Kwiatkowski was called for the violation. That’s what Red Sox catcher Eli Marrero standing and looking at his wrist-band notes and thus deeking Conley can accomplish. Ending the game in a six-all tie.

“The umpire said I was looking down,” Conley told a reporter after that game. “I was looking down at the catcher as he was standing up. Not really sure if the pitcher was ready to go, the catcher definitely wasn’t. I was just trying to go with the rhythm of them, kind of wasn’t looking at the clock. Next time, should’ve called time in that situation, I guess, is what the umpire said. I guess learn from it and move on.”

He's not the only one who’ll have to learn from it and move on. But to where should we move? Don’t ask baseball’s attention-deficit commissioner. It doesn’t seem to have crossed his mind that the pitch clock was going to have issues out of, pardon the expression, the box. 

Fifteen seconds with the bases empty and 25 seconds with men on base? Eight seconds for the batter to be in the box and ready? Who does Commissioner ADD think has to catch which train? If we must endure the pitch clock, what would have been terrible about 25 seconds with the bases empty, 30 seconds with men on base, and 18 seconds for the batter to be ready?

You guessed it—I’m going there again. Did Commissioner ADD stop to think that maybe the true reason for games going well over three hours had nothing to do with the play of the game and everything to do with broadcast dollars? Did anyone stop to tell him it might be a better idea to restrict those two-minute commercials to the beginning of each full inning and knock them the hell off during pitching changes and between half-innings?

Did anyone stop to tell him he might still get the same delicious dollars with just the choice spots before each full inning if he played his and his bosses’ hands properly? It’s been established long enough that Mr. Manfred’s true conception of the good of the game is making money for it. That would have been cake if anyone had applied brains.

(Don’t fool yourselves that the so-called Economic Reform Committee will be for the good of the game. It’s more likely to become a Committee to Horsewhip Owners Who Actually Spend on Their Teams and Want to Win. The latest collective bargaining agreement isn’t quite a full year old, and enough are up to no good already.)

Commissioner ADD insists his new rules indicate he’s trying nothing more and nothing less than to “produce a crisp and exciting game.” Forget that baseball’s flavour comes as much from the tensions in the pauses as from the cracks of the bat, the thwump! of pitches into catcher’s mitts, the brainstormings during jams. 

Mets pitcher Max Scherzer seems to have eyes upon something a lot more than just crisp excitement, or is that exciting crispness. “Really, the power the pitcher has now—I can totally dictate pace," Max the Knife said last Sunday, after he surrendered a single run but struck five out in two innings against his old team from Washington. 

The rule change of the hitter having only one timeout changes the complete dynamic of the hitter-and-pitcher dynamic. I love it. It’s a cat-and-mouse game. There’s rules, and I’ll operate within whatever the rules are. I can come set even before the hitter is really in the box. I can’t pitch until eight [seconds], but as soon as his eyes are up, I can go.

In other words—advantage, pitcher. Big advantage, pitcher. Big potential, possibly, that the bugs won’t really be wrung out before someone might get rung up for an eight-second violation with the potential winning run on third . . . in Game Seven of the World Series? Big potential, possibly, for another Year of the Pitcher? 

You can hear Commissioner ADD now: Quit talking sense, dummy. I have a train to catch.

Jeff Kallman is an IBWAA Life Member who writes Throneberry Fields Forever. He has written for the Society for American Baseball Research, The Hardball Times, Sports-Central, and other publications. He has lived in Las Vegas since 2007, where he plays the guitar and writes music when not writing baseball. He remains a Mets fan since the day they were born. 

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