ORLANDO, Fla. — Puffing on a cigar, Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf said what many fans believe.
“It doesn’t matter if the game is 3 1/2 hours if it was an exciting game. But if it’s a 2-1 game, it takes 4 hours, nobody’s too happy with it,” he said Tuesday. “I believe we should speed up the game. That’s one of the things we should do, is limit the number of trips that a catcher can take to the mound in the course of an inning or a game. We could easily cut 20 minutes off the time of a game if we really wanted to.”
The average time of a nine-inning contest was a record 3 hours, 5 minutes this season, up from 2:56 in 2015. The postseason average was 3:29.
Many owners and general managers want to cut down trips to the mound by catchers. Whether the reason is changing signs, talking about pitch selection or just giving a pitcher a breather during long plate appearances, management wants to cut back.
Pitchers and catchers say they are being extra cautious in an era where dozens of high-definition cameras are focused on them, and each team has employees in video rooms seeking any advantage.
“There could be an element of paranoia involved,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said.
Jon Daniels, the Texas Rangers president of baseball operations, didn’t hedge.
“I don’t think it’s paranoia, I think it’s real,” he said of the sign-stealing threat.
MLB proposed three changes to address game length last offseason that the players’ union didn’t accept, and management can start them next year without player approval: restricting catchers to one trip to the mound per pitcher each inning; employing a 20-second pitch clock; and raising the bottom of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level — at the top of the kneecap.
Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred prefers reaching an agreement with the union, and changes could be phased in over several years. The strike zone change has been discussed less in recent months.
Dialogue between MLB and the union is ongoing.
There also has been discussion about cutting the time between innings by using split screens to broadcast commercials while half-innings get underway.
“It’s not just listening to our current fans, it’s thinking about our future fans and the landscape we’re competing on, how they watch other sports, how they digest media in general and where society is kind of taking sports and sports media,” Toronto Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro said. “It’s important to consider those things. To operate in a vacuum would be a mistake.”
While many want to eliminate what they call “dead time,” the debate is what new rules to put in place.
“I know catchers are out there to try to help the pitcher, so when our team does it, it doesn’t annoy me,” St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. said with a laugh before adding: “I think it needs to be eliminated to a degree.”
Reinsdorf said the Cardinals’ All-Star catcher is among the worst offenders.
“The master of going out to the mound is Yadier Molina, because he’s like a pitching coach. He’s out there helping his pitcher,” Reinsdorf said. “There’s a trillion ways that you could take 20 minutes off the game, and Rob is smart enough to know what they are, and I think he wants to do it, so I think it will get done.”
Manfred spoke to the general managers and reinforced there would be severe sanctions for trying to evade baseball’s labor contract by agreeing to a future major league contract with Japanese star pitcher/outfielder Shohei Otani, who if posted must agree to only a minor league contract with a limited signing bonus. Manfred also briefed the GMs on what Hahn said were “impending sanctions for team improprieties.” Atlanta Braves GM John Coppolella and special assistant Gordon Blakeley resigned Oct. 2 after an MLB investigation revealed serious rules violations in the international player market.
As GMs prepared to end their meeting, team chief executives began arriving for committee meetings Wednesday and a quarterly owners’ meeting Thursday. A vote is likely on a new contract with online ticket exchange StubHub.
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