Baseball too slow? Union opposes clock

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CINCINNATI — Baseball management is intrigued with the idea of using pitch clocks to speed play in the major leagues. The players’ association thinks it is a horrible idea.

Adopting rules requiring hitters to keep at least one foot in the batter’s box and to put up clocks timing between-innings breaks led to the average time of a nine-inning game dropping to 2 hours, 53 minutes so far this season. That is down from 3:02 for the first half of 2014.

“We decided that we would undertake a rather modest set of changes this year,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said during a meeting with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

“We also made a decision to make a significant investment to test the 20-second pitch clock further at Double-A and Triple-A. We are really encouraged by the results of that experiment in terms of how it moves the games along.

“Now how quickly that experiment or whether that experiment migrates to the big league level is going to be a product of conversations with the MLBPA.”

At Triple-A, the average time for a nine-inning game has dropped 15 minutes to 2:41 in the International League and 13 minutes to 2:45 in the Pacific Coast League.

At Double-A, the average has been cut 12 minutes to 2:38 in the Eastern League, 13 minutes to 2:39 in the Southern League and five minutes to 2:46 in the Texas League.

At lower levels, times range from a five-minute decrease (Carolina and Midwest) to a seven-minute increase (Pioneer, a short-season league whose season started last month).

Major League Baseball Players Association head Tony Clark, a former All-Star first baseman, made clear his members do not want pitch clocks. An agreement with the union would be needed to use them in the big leagues.

“The game is fundamentally different. The game is fundamentally faster. There are more considerations that need to be made at the major level than at the Single-A level or the Double-A level or the Triple-A level,” he said.

“We have heard from players who have played in the minor leagues and who have gotten up to the big leagues, and rest assured their experiences wouldn’t suggest that they’re bending over backward to implement the same thing up here that they are experiencing down there.”

Players don’t mind cutting the time of between-innings breaks, which they think improves the flow of games. However, Clark said they don’t want changes that “dramatically affect the game that is being played between the lines,” which he called “a very dangerous proposition to make.”

Manfred said expanded video review for umpires, which began in 2014, could see more types of calls added in future seasons. But he doesn’t see video aid for balls-and-strikes decisions any time soon, partly because batters of different heights have different zones.

“It’s because of speed. It’s because of technology limitations,” he said. “It’s because, quite frankly, the strike zone is different for every single guy.”

Former player and manager Joe Torre, his chief baseball officer, said data showed umpires were calling the strike zone the same in 2015 as they did last year, but he said more low pitches were called strikes in 2013.

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